Back to: The art of being late | Forward to: The 21st century: FAQ

Slacking

I am author: watch me goof off on the job!

Today I have done no writing of fiction whatsoever. Instead, shockingly, I went shopping with my wife. In a dastardly plot to deprive my fans of their rightful 0.5% of the next novel, we went to IKEA and bought a new bed. (Because the old one is pretty much broken.) And tomorrow, in a callous display of selfish work-shy negligence I shall assemble flat-pack furniture, break down the old bed — and then I shall go to sleep! And while I am sleeping, I will not be working at all!

In fact, over the next 24 hours I will be so lazy and uncaring for my fans' right to read my next novel that I really ought to fire myself. Except that I've declared Thursday and Friday to be an honorary weekend, and it's quite possible I'll be slaving over a hot keyboard all of Saturday and Sunday.

(Ahem.)

This is by way of adding a parenthetical footnote to my previous posting, namely to illustrate the fact that not only are novelists self-employed, but they work really weird hours. As another writer of my acquaintance explained it to me, many years ago: because writing is socially isolating — because we do it locked up alone in an office, as a solitary occupation, for months or years on end — we have to learn to fit our social lives in around that of our friends, who are far more likely to organize their time around institutions such as their employers and the schools their children attend. But by the same token, we don't need to work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, except for public holidays — we can work whenever we're driven to it. Being able to hit IKEA off-peak at 3pm on a Thursday is one of the perks of an otherwise reclusive occupation: and I can spend the 3pm Sunday rush hour in front of a word processor instead.

Incidentally, if you were wondering why authors blog ...

Being a novelist is an intensely socially isolating job. In fact, if you haven't done it, you might have difficulty comprehending just how weird the lifestyle is compared to any other occupation. We lock ourselves in an office for several hours a day, every day, and we don't interact with other people while we're working. In almost any other job, you deal with co-workers or members of the public and chat around the coffee station: but not if you're a novelist.

Blogs and social networking have, in the past decade, come along and given us a vital sanity-oriented pressure release valve. They occupy a much more important role in the life of the working novelist than might at first be apparent to someone with a regular job. They operate in effect as a substitute for the normal workplace social interaction: without which we tend to go a little bit crazy from pure isolation. (There's a reason alcoholism is an occupational disease among writers ...)

Obviously, there's an element of marketing and self-promotion involved in any public figure who runs a blog. But I don't believe that my blogging entirely pays for itself in book sales. Rather, it pays for itself by keeping me in contact with other people, by providing the equivalent of the office coffee station or drinks cooler, and the casual contact with co-workers and members of the public that most of us take for granted.

... Which ought to go some way towards explaining why some authors (including GRRM) respond very negatively indeed to suggestions that they stop posting to their blog, or stop posting about stuff that interests or entertains them outside of work. As Jo Walton put it, if you see your surgeon down at the supermarket checkout, do you chide them for not being up to their elbows in someone's abdominal cavity? Writers are human beings too: they are unlikely to work for more than 25% of their time (which, if you think about it, is 42 hours a week), and like everyone else, they need the human socialization of a real life. Blogging has become an essential part of it over the past few years. And if you expect an author — who is, by profession and instinct a communicator — to stop communicating by venting at the coffee station, you can expect push-back.

86 Comments

1:

Right, no sleep for you!

I like writing but hate "working from home". If I were to do what you do I'd need an awful lot of socialising after work.

2:

Hey! You were supposed to go over to George's house and help him with the writing!

3:

I'm frankly disappointed.

I was expecting a youtube clip of Charlie tearing his beard out while screaming 'I AM AN ARTIST, NOT A SAUSAGE FACTORY, YOU UNGRATEFUL PHILISTINES' at the top of his voice, before going on a wild geek hunt with his trusty kalashnikov.

Money back please.

4:

I'm deeply disappointed as well.

Shopping at Ikea..........

(I would cheerfully shove their "Grund" where the sun don't shine.)

5:

Actually, we were looking for a shelf and ended up getting a bed instead. Isn't that the typical IKEA experience?

If IKEA sold car accessories, you'd go in looking for a new set of windscreen wiper blades and come out with a half-track. Or maybe a diesel-powered unicycle.

6:

Like the coffee station metapher -- used something very similar to describe why twitter is useful some days ago.

7:

Ikea: just some oak and some pine and a handful of Norsemen
Ikea: selling furniture for college kids and divorced men...

http://www.jonathancoulton.com/songdetails/Ikea

8:

I continue to be surprised how many people think it's even possible to work flat out for long periods of time without a decrease in quality. If I'm uninterrupted, I can do "heavy-thinking" work for about three hours before I need to do something else (or nothing more will get done). Given what I've seen from coworkers, that's a phenomenally long attention span. The average worker in the US gets four hours of actual work done in an eight-hour day.

It's also fascinating that the same people who as students probably would have avoided a college class that required a 1500-word paper every week are suggesting that it is expected that an author would write at that level every day.

9:

@3 I'm sitting in my cube dying of laughter visualizing this.

10:

WHY AM I WASTING TIME REPLYING TO THIS WHEN I COULD BE COMPLAINING ABOUT DANCING WITH DRAGONS?!?!?!!!!

Um.

11:

Charles,

Really like that you're writing about this - the GRRM post too. I have total sympathy and understanding for the impossibility and absurdity that an author owes it to his/her readers to always be writing.

Of course, there are many components to this. I don't know if it applies to GRRM or to you, but I get the feeling that writing is much about ideas and characterizations, and these are things that cannot be forced. You need to let your creative work in your subconscious before putting it on paper, and you need to be away from the keyboard to be able to do that.

I work as a software developer, with languages that require ingenuity and creativity, and face the same thing. It's really hard - and usually detrimental - to try to force these things.

So slack of all you want. I know I'll get my next fill of your excellent prose as soon as you're ready for it. (And I really look forward to the Fuller Memorandum, btw).

12:

This IKEA talk makes me happy because I have been ashamed of furnishing an entire apartment with their goods (except for a Lay-Z-Boy, which the US Constitution guarantees to all male citizens over 30).

Frankly, I am using IKEA because its cheap and I need a substitute for taste and style. It all goes together right? I hope....

13:

I work 8 hours or so a day. When I am not working, database development does not happen (except at odd times in my own head, like when in the shower, or taking out the trash), but my manager and my customer are good with that, because they are home as well, pursuing whatever activities they engage in when not micromanaging me, such as drinking heavily, doing lots of drugs, being amoral and promiscuous, etc... ie: having more fun than I am. Not only are they making more money than me, but they enjoy their time-off in greater proportion just for spite. Bastards.

Anyways, I am a DBA for 33% of my day, but I am a reader ALL THE TIME. I think I and many others naively expect our favorite authors to be just as slavishly devoted to entertaining us as we are to being entertained, so it's shocking to realize they need to go to Ikea to buy a Flummer, or a Fartfull, or some other bizarrely named item, and eat some of those awesome Swedish meatballs with the jelly on top, just like we do.

14:

Charlie @5: But a very stylish unicycle. Held together with Allen bolts, they key to which you may or may not be able to find next time you want to put it back together. Obviously, you found the key to take it apart.

15:

Man, you still don't understand why people are mad at GRRM, do you? It is not because he posted on his blog, quite the opposite. If even once a month he posted something like "wrote a nice chapter on lemoncakes today", this would not be an issue at all. But instead he so willfully ignored the very thing his customers wanted. If he actually had been writing anything at all, surely it would have been worth even a casual mention, no?

Even this one post of yours, just by saying that you didn't write anything today, and in turn acknowledging that this is not the norm and that you usually ARE writing, is more rewarding than the entire last year of GRRM's blog combined.

Surely the time is a factor for some people, and I can't say that there isn't a slight feeling on entitlement all around, but honestly, no blog would have been better than Not A Blog.

16:

@14: Well, I would gather that GRRM wants his blog as a release and refuge from his regular writing. His blog might be more for _his_ purpose than for the purpose of the readers looking for the next update on Dance With Dragons.

So maybe the issue is that some people have a strange opinion on what GRRM should write about in his blog?

17:

@15: I would agree with you if he didn't talk about Wild Cards and Jack Vance anthologies so often. And ASoIaF figures, and calendars, and con appearances. He obviously has no problem using the blog to discuss his professional works.

18:

@16: Point taken - I don't read his blog so all my info came from your post.

19:

Can you just imagine the ancient Greeks hounding Homer this way? He's worked for years, and he's just finished up the biggest darn scroll he's ever seen, and some Cretan comes on over, reads it in an afternoon, and then starts hounding him about "So, when will you write the sequel? Next year, after your vacation down at Thera? I can't wait that long, I need to know what happened to Odysseus!" It's enough to make one sip a little hemlock.

20:

Nat @14: Are you, the reader, a writer's customer?

I realise the whole world is supposed to conform to a two-party reciprocal-commercial-agreement kind of a model, but perhaps it's as ridiculous for writing as it is for education.

21:

I was a programmer working as a contractor for a company in another city...I really miss working at home and setting my own hours. (Not to mention the lack of commute.)

@14: GRRM's customer is "Bantam Books", not you.

Also, please don't presume to speak for his entire fanbase. Many of us bought his books, loved his books, and wish that people would shut the hell up and let the poor man alone.

22:

Perhaps you are technically correct on the "customer" point, but that's still being unconstructively pedantic. If we stopped buying the books, so would Bantam.

23:

Apropos 19 and 21, my readers are not my customers.

My customers are my editors.

There is a lag between (readers stopping buying books) and (publisher stops buying books) -- it's a loosely coupled system, and there are circumstances in which a publisher may continue to buy books despite customers not buying them (although to be fair, there's got to be commercial light at the end of the tunnel).

Nor are the talkative fans necessarily the customers the commissioning editors are selling product to. Fans make a lot of noise, but aren't necessarily representative of the actual commercial customer base.

24:

Nat: I am very sure Bantam is extremely concerned that no one is going to buy a book that has had such an impact on the reading community that fans are whining loudly in public about it not being done yet.

I'm sure they'd much prefer to contract with authors who generated only yawns when deadlines were missed.

25:

*Yawn* Well, if you keep on not writing for the next three years, then maybe I'll come back and start to vent about it. Let me know.

Charlie Stross: Apropos 19 and 21, my readers are not my customers.

Yeah. Frak the fans. I mean, they should all fraking DIAF.

I mean, seriously, why won't they farking just understand that they're stupid, mindless drones and that all writers hate them? At least GRRM has the right stuff to tell them to go to hell.

;)

26:

Spherical time: Fans != Readers.

Srsly.

Fans are a tiny subset of readers. Well, not necessarily tiny -- but likely less than 10%, possibly less than 1%.

The lower the sales, the higher the ratio of fans to casual readers. We have a technical term for this: we say books with high fan-to-reader ratios have "cult followings" or are "secret gems".

This is not a recommendation, as far as a marketing manager is concerned. And guess what? At many major publishers, the editors report to the marketing managers. (At those houses where they don't, they usually work hand-in-glove with them.) In fact, marketing usually have veto power over whether or not to buy any given book. Editors propose: but marketing managers dispose. Fear them: fear the mightly fist of Marketing displeasure!

What I, and GRRM, and every other writer of commercial fiction wants to do is to break out beyond the charmed circle of the serious fans and get to the casual readers who maybe buy two or three novels a year to read on the beach during their vacation. And it's not because we hate the fans -- we really don't; in fact, we are fans, we have sodding personal libraries stuffed with thousands of books by our favourite authors -- but because there are simply many, many more casual readers than true fans. Oodles of them. Orders of magnitude more of them. And while quality is good, quantity has a quality all of its own. It's sort of like a George Romero zombie movie, you know? The living: they're fans. Casual readers: the undead horde. Sure I'd rather spend my time with the charming, intelligent, can-sustain-a-pulse-and-do-not-hunger-for-my-brains movie heroes -- but frankly, if I'm doing business, give me zombies!

(/me removes tongue from cheek with aid of pliers, looks for a wound dressing to cover the hole.)

27:

But aren't authors supposed to be monks, churning out prose seven days a week, 23 hours a day? Seriously though, those people who are sitting around whining for a sequel need to move along to other books until the book does finally come out. I really don't get the fixation on sequels or an author's next book. Shouldn't they have ta queue of about 100 books that they have been wanting to read? The only real argument for an author to hurry up on a book is if he/she needs money... now! Otherwise readers almost always benefit from time and thought going into a new book (and hopefully trimming down the ideas to 300 pgs or less. Thank you Mr. Stross for never falling in to novel bloat.)

28:

Clark: if you run the free downloadable text of Accelerando through a word counter, you'll discover that it runs to over 145,000 words. Cramming it into a mere 400 pages was an impressive feat of typesetting and/or eyeball abuse on the part of the US publisher, but I'd hardly call it a short novel!

29:

Charlie @26: Hole in your cheek, or your tongue? Pliers to the tongue sounds like some sort of mediaeval inducement to finish an overdue novel.

30:

* Tongue so firmly in cheek that it causes a fistula *

(To reiterate: I don't hate fans. But I do this shit for a living, and if I pay too much attention to the most vocal fans, as opposed to the price signals from the market, I might end up having to look for a day job. And none of us would like that.)

31:

y'know IKEA beds suck, actually the beds are ok but the mattresses suck majorly. We bought the most expensive one a while back and it was terrible after about 6 months. Because of the metric sizes we replaced with another IKEA one after it became unbearable with a memory foam one, which has lasted 3 years and now sucks. So Charlie, when the bed's delivered tomorrow, keep the mattress sealed and return it for a refund, go to a decent mattress shop, like 'and so to bed' in Dundas Street or the 'Futon Factory' in Hanover street and get a decent mattress for the frame/base/whatever bed you bought. You will regret the IKEA mattress if you keep it.

As for your post at 26, LOL.

32:

shm: looked around "and so to bed", wasn't impressed. (Sticker shock, as much as anything else.) And the old futon came from the Futon Factory in Hanover Street.

33:

Vegetarian zombies: Graaaains!

34:

Nat @17:

So maybe he's using his blog to talk about the work-things that aren't hideously stressing him out because he can't make things work properly? It's his blog; he's entitled to write (and not write) about whatever he wants to.

35:

Chris @34:
well yeah, no shit, he can do what he wants, he doesn't "have" to finish anything. I still think he's kind of a dick. that's really all there is to it.

36:

In fact, over the next 24 hours I will be so lazy and uncaring for my fans' right to read my next novel that I really ought to fire myself.

I'm working in a school, so I've seen a bit of this attitude. Firing the kids is frowned on, so I usually begin with a boring lecture on Responsibility and Hard Work and Grades and Exams. Most of the time they get on with their work to shut me up. So I suggest you give yourself a good talking to.

I've been waiting for new ASoIaF since 1998 (barring a week in 2000 and another in 2005). After GRRM completely failed to hit his estimated dates twice, I decided he was unreliable and slow and built that into my expectations. So I'm okay with his attitude.

(Although if I were trapped in a lift with him I'd have to restrain myself from giving him a boring lecture on Deadlines and Finishing What You Start and Handing In Your Work)

37:

I trust you're not just posting that to boast that you managed to break a bed, eh? ;-)

38:

Anthony: naah, this one's just crap. I'm old and sluggish: it was the bed before the current (outgoing) one that we broke.

39:

Charlie@23:

Since you seem to think that we readers aren't your customers, then maybe we should perform a small experiment. Perhaps we readers should simply stop buying your books for a while - say, to coincide with your next release - and then let's see how well your editors keep you fed and clothed with no sales to readers to point to, and lots of nice returns, eh?

I'm sure they'll keep you in kith and kin out of the kindness of their hearts, yes?

;>

40:

Hey, I went to IKEA today too! I didn't buy any furniture though, I was just pricing and measuring things for after I've moved into my new apartment. But I had some Swedish meatballs and lingonberries.

41:

Charlie@23:

Even better - why don't you *intentionally* miss your next deadline, delaying delivery by about 5 years or so, and then see how well those editors/publishers treat you, not to mention w supposedly irrelevant readers?

I mean, if you really *believe* what you're saying, put your money where your mouth is, wot?

I dare you.

;>

42:

Personally I've just stopped caring, it'll probably out eventually and in the meantime I will pursue other areas of interest. Plenty of other books to buy and read, not to mention tv series, movies, games, socializing. A nice scifi series about androids I'm following only gets a 15 minute episode every two months. Hell, last one was delayed by another 2 months, so what. Plenty of other stuff to watch in between (Time of Eve if anyone is interested, and it's streamed legally on crunchyroll - I do dislike the site though).

I suppose the whiney fans should get a life, although I find some of the people defending GRRM equally funny as if the author can do no wrong. Nothing wrong about some objective criticism.

@Roland
Stop being a sore loser if people gang up on you in an internet debate. Most of the "customers" or rather readers don't even read the blog. And it's a valid point, the author has to sell the book to the editors/publishing company and it's their job to sell it to you. Resorting to being an asshole wouldn't really raly people to your cause or in this case viewpoint.

43:

Vito@42:

Since I don't think I've lost, how can I be a sore loser?

I mean, consider the situation. Messr. Stross has been manuevered into making *another* weblog post on this same topic, and is now resorting to quoting bogus analogies like Jo Walton's - in the case of GRRM/_DWD_, it's more like you had surgery scheduled for a Friday morning, then you got a call saying your surgeon had to reschedule due to an emergency with another patient, and then you run into your doctor as he's loading his golf bags into his boot whilst talking tee-times on his mobile, heh.

It's hard to be a sore loser when you're winning.

;>


44:

Roland@43: Not as hard as trying to sound Machiavellian on the weblog of a total stranger who quite obviously hasn't been "manuevered" into doing anything.

45:

Ronald @ 43:
You cry a lot for someone reading an author's blog about this subject - twice even, at least! You are taking a position of entitlement. Get over it. You may have read a promise having been made, or even one may have actually been made. There was no contractual obligation to you. You have no 'rights' in this situation. This is not an surgery where a doctor who took a Hippocratic oath is deliberately endangering your life, or even lying to you. You're throwing straw men, after accusing others of making false analogy.
If you are not the publisher, you can complain all you want but the law will not listen, nor will many other people.

If you want to argue semantics of what Charlie wrote your tone of entitlement-fueled outage rings loudly of someone who knows they are in the wrong but is unwilling to abandon the nitpicking and accept they've lost. I see it in politics, I know the sound of it.

The direct customer of an artist, as the business model works, is the distributor and not the consumer. The good of the artist relies largely on the consumer, since the business model dictates that the payment from the customer is linked to the performance of the product in the consumer market.

This said, I AM frustrated when people do not release books in a timely manner. I've waited years. But I realize I have no right to push, much less hound, someone about it. Melanie Rawn, George R. R. Martin, or anyone else. I go to the bookstore, and I find someone new to read. I find something new to enjoy. I get over myself and expand my horizons.

46:

Roland @ 43:

Please replace "we readers" with "I", because you sure as hell don't speak for this reader.

47:

Chris L @ 44: My theory is that Stross and Scalzi are having a contest to see who can get the longest thread.

48:

TechSlave@45:

I'm *not* outraged at GRRM at all. I want him to finish the book so I can give him money, and, yes, I think it's irritating that he's missed self-announced deadline after deadline, but I'm not 'outraged'. I'm no longer anxiously awaiting the next installment, my enthusiasm has dimmed. But that's not 'outrage'.

What I do think is that GRRM needs to better explain himself in the vein of Charlie@30. GRRM *must* keep multiple projects going in order to pay his rent, he can't just stop everything else and concentrate full-bore on the one book.

The people agitating against him by and large don't seem to understand this. Many of them seem to think that GRRM has attained Grisham- or Rowling-level wealth, and that he's just dawdling.

That isn't the case at all. There aren't that many full-time authors of speculative fiction in the first place, and only a subset of those have made significant amounts of money - and that tiny handful have largely done so over a long period of time. Authors like GRRM are working blokes, they often end up taking short-term work when they can get it, because they need the income and those who sing for their supper must always set aside funds for the rainy days.

I reiterate that GRRM has mishandled this situation, but that he can correct it, if he so chooses. Assuming he ever finishes the damned book, I'm sure it will be a good one; however, in one of his recent posts on this topic, he revealed that there's still *another* book to come in the series, however, which given the present circumstances induces eye-rolling, heh.

If GRRM can finish _DWD_ in time to coincide with the HBO mini-series based upon the existing works, that would help boost both backsales and sales of the new book. But even if he can't, better communications with his customers (yes, I maintain that the readers are the ultimate customers, because without readers, you don't get editors and publishers) will only benefit him in the long run.

49:

Ronald @ 48:
In some ways, this is then a punishment for GRRM having stated a deadline. Personally, I stopped 'watching' for the next book in a number of instances - his writing among them - and simply let it happen. I just find it distasteful that he is essentially being punished for opacity. I'm sure many people would have liked him to post more along the lines of "Oh, that deadline? Failed, sorry, this series is too complex and I have to work on the parts I can as and when I can". He's explained he already has sections that have been moved to the next book in the series entirely. Speaking as a buyer of books - a regular $100 USD monthly budget item simply for science fiction/fantasy and occasional forays into the mystery and mainstream literature - I wish more authors were transparent at ALL regarding their work. I wish Gene Wolfe had anything to say to the internet. I miss Spider Robinson's podcasting. Cory Doctrow writes about anything but writing these days, or so it seems.

At this point, the man needs a story bible and a full time plotline-tracking assistant I have no doubt. I agree that he may not have handled the situation well, and I see your point that he should try for a clear or concise explanation. But I don't think he 'owes' it to anyone - which is what many fans feel not you specifically, since I think you stated your point of view much more clearly). I think some of the issue is with the cycle of consumer products in general, be they art or simply consumable goods. Even moreso, media releases are set to rigorous schedules which greatly impact (downwards) the quality of offerings as a whole. But to keep afloat, the industry feels it must provide constant fresh meat. It sets expectations. When expectations are broken, people get upset.

On the GRRM side, if five thousand people whinged in my ear about anything I was creating, it would poison the endeavor to some extent at least. I work in customer service, and my sympathy with the customer who gets me on the phone or via e-mail can be altered radically by demands being stated in a way I felt was hostile.
I found that authors working under the load of demand, and pushing the books out when they're not yet ready to leave the womb, decay in quality. In my opinion, such authors include: Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, Jim Butcher, Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, John Grisham, Lillian Jackson Braun, Christopher Stasheff, Laurel K Hamilton, and I could keep searching my memory or shelves and continue. I guess my point is that art rushed is poorer for it. And these authors, whose less than stellar works STILL sold like mad, found the bar lowered. And so more of the same quality went out, and we were all the worse for it.

Penultimately, in the interests of honest discourse: Maybe my understanding of your tone in the last post was a bit misplaced, but on the internet, nobody can hear you sarcasm without emotes. I think Charlie was ladling out the sarcasm here a lot too, but also making a point and drawing something of a line in regard to his feelings and viewpoints on this type of situation. And he did write a yet-to-be-published book ahead of schedule, because it came out when he was trying to write something else.


And Charlie:
Ikea deserves its own drinking game. Maybe involving costumes appropriate to the settings they create in their displays in-store. We did ours in Oakland, with only small incident. Next time you must venture into the maw of the furniture beast, go equipped with liquor. After all, you have to try the lifestyle out before you purchase it.

50:

TechSlave: the irony is, I usually avoid IKEA. All too often the build quality is crappy -- but for cheap domestic accessories they're really handy. (Case in point: if you want a kitchen sink scrubbing brush and see a brightly coloured one with a neat rubber sucker on the handle so it stands upright on the draining board you tend to grab it. And half a dozen similar knick-knacks. And a year later you go back for more.) And sometimes you get lucky, especially if you avoid their cheap range furniture (the stuff I think of as "student landlord central").

51:

Charlie @ 23 ....
Does this tie in to the comment on the previous thread that Diane Duane's "Doors" DIDN'T SELL?
Uh?

Much better than her young-teen stuff, "the tale of the five" was quite well put-together fantsy - whih is always difficult to do (see the Le Guin remarks I alluded to several threads ago ...)

And, of course, publishers get it wrong.
How many publishers did JKR have to go to before "Harry Potter I" sold?
Or JRRT, who got a VERY lucky break with Allen & Unwin over "The Hobbit".

Meanwhile, publishers continue to churn semi-illterate trash of the type auto-written by plonkers like Dan Brown (shudder)

52:

Good for you- the benefits of 'productive downtime' are often underrated. My wife and I normally agree on a spreadsheet of tasks for me to undertake during the school holidays (I teach) if I do not have to look after our kid- painting/DIY/furniture assembly (she has a tendency to say "let's go to Ikea" at 7 on a Friday night!). It is often hard work and tiring, but the change in mental gear is (I am ashamed to admit) better than vegging out in front of the TV or with a book (this is better after a normal day at the coal face).

53:

Greg: it is possible to make an end-run around the publishers and sell direct to fans.

To do it successfully you need (a) an existing successful product with an enthusiastic fan base who are willing to pay for it, and (b) lots of time, energy, and sales and marketing nous.

When I say "enthusiastic fan base who are willing to pay for it", I am talking about on the order of 2-3000 people who are willing to pay £25 for an ebook or print-on-demand paperback of the next book in a series that's been discontinued by the publisher. And they need to be people you can market to directly -- real fans, not casual readers who bought your previous book in a store but have no idea that you've got a blog or online storefront of your own. Realistically, this means you need at least an order of magnitude more enthusiastic readers for the previous (now discontinued) series who want to continue reading it. Have you spotted the paradox yet? If it's got that level of readers, it probably isn't going to be axed in the first place!

Secondly, if you go direct to the readers, someone has to copy-edit and proof-read the book. (Hint: authors are lousy at spotting their own grammatical and spelling idiosyncracies.) And someone to typeset it. (Hint: authors are not usually professional book designers.) And then some arrangement for printing and distributing chunks of dead tree, or for selling ebooks. And you get to do your own marketing. All of which boils down to a drain on the time you could spend writing the next book for your existing big-name publisher contract.

Which is why successful authors don't usually go down the self-publishing route. Or if they do, they end up setting up a full-scale small press and publishing and distributing other folks' books as well.

54:

TechSlave@49 - Jim Butcher? I've found his work is _improving_ not getting worse (although I haven't read his fantasy output, only the Dresden Files). The latest short story in Mean Streets was very moving.

@Charlie (if I may be so bold) I'm a big bloke and I found that IKEA mattress just don't hack it - they're saggy and won't last. Invest a few hundred quid in a decent firm mattress with all that sprung malarky they go on about. You'll sleep better and be more rested (and that way us fans get better books more often! woohoo!).

Maybe all GRRM needs is a decent nights kip?

p.s. @Roland - I'm finding all your posts very unpleasant sounding - please be nicer in future

55:

Lots of posters above are forgetting the other problem of the consumer end of things. We can consume this stuff a lot quicker than authors turn (not churn) them out. Tough on us, maybe, but I am a great consumer of fiction while having none I could produce. I am correspondingly grovellingly grateful to the producers and have no difficulty in tolerating a wait for the next book.
Also, being married to a writer (non-fiction), I am familiar with the effort required to complete and deliver a manuscript.

56:

Playing devil's advocate somewhat (because I've not really followed the GRRM debate, and in either case I totally agree that no author is beholden to the demands of their readers or even their dyed in the wool fanatics), I have to say that the reactions of some of the fans are not totally unexpected.

Many people have as much emotional investment in a character or story as the author (and many have more if, from what I've heard, a lot of authors come to resent their most beloved characters) so I can understand the emotional turmoil of those fans who are just eager for the next installment and are constantly disappointed.

If you don't want a few (and I'm sure this is a case again of the vocal minority) of those disappointed fans to blow up, try throwing them some scraps once in a while to tide them over, that's all. If you can't do that, then just accept some of them will blow up, be the better man and don't respond, because eventually ranting at ranting idiots just makes you look like a ranting idiot and suddenly you've defeated your own argument :)

Personally, as someone who is passionate about my reading, as frustrating as the wait can be between novels, the anticipation actually adds to the eventual enjoyment. I'm sure the vast majority of "fans" are in the same boat (while the vast majority of "readers" probably don't mind either way) and to me, shouting back at the mob doesn't reflect too well on an author. I know authors are human too... well, mostly... but I always expect internet nutjobs to rant on blogs, while it's totally unexpected to see authors responding in kind - in this scenario I only ever had respect for the author so he's the only one capable of diminishing that respect.

Anyway, Ikea. I have to agree, most of their ranges should be avoided like the plague but they do have the rare gem which almost makes it worth the three hour trek around the store, or the bit where they send you to some industrial estate in the dodgiest part of town to wait for 2 hours in the freezing cold for a little rubber stick on pad that stops the door banging (or would, if the door made contact with said pad).

My awesome flask teapot, for instance, which saves me numerous trips to the kettle throughout the average day, or the fact that when I was hunting for a bookcase to fit an unsual gap, every other manaufacturer made theirs to a standard size that was either 10cm too wide or 30cm too narrow (and since we're renting, I didn't want to build something into the gap myself), but after trying literally 20-odd other stores/online sources, Ikea bucked the trend by producing a bookcase which was exactly the width of the odd gap and exactly the colour of the surrounding wall. Hurrah!

57:

Robin@54: I get a say in the bed decisions, and any mattress is better than the several years overdue for replacement futon we have right now. The cunning plan is that when the IKEA mattress gets knackered, we splash out for a Tempur one. I don't like sprung mattresses at all - horrid for both the main uses of a bed.

58:

Robing@54:

See GRRM's YouTube 'response' to his agitated readers.

;>

59:

Now you're making it sound like Ed Reardon's Week ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/comedy/edreardon.shtml ) is reality! Argh! Writers don't have cats called Elgar do they?

60:

Charlie, if you put out 1 book a decade I'd still be happy. Although I think your wife might be a bit upset about the meager paychecks.

61:

As a stay-at-home dad for about 3 1/2 years now, I can totally relate to the isolation factor that comes with a work-at-home job like writing. As I am completely responsible for the lives of my young kids during the day, I don't even get to drink away my sorrows. I'm just lucky that my temperament lends itself to solitude. Even so, I need *some* interaction with humans other than my wife and kids. But:

90% of my conversations are with my kids or about my kids.
When I interact with other adults "in the wild", it's usually another parent. At some kid-related function.
I'm lucky to see my friends more than once or twice every other month.
I'm forgetting how to communicate with other humans in person.

If I didn't play Xbox 360 at night, read blogs, twitter, IM, post on messageboards, etc, I'd have little to no interaction with anyone outside my immediate family. As it is, I know I'm more nuts than I was when I started this crazy endeavor, and I was already a socially awkward geek.

This is just a roundabout way of saying that I sympathize with writers, and that Scalzi/Charlie/GRRM are all correct. The release valve of frivolous concerns is desperately needed when one is isolated.

62:

Feòrag & Charlie:

For almost 35 years we bought cheap beds from "landlord central" kinds of places while we first had crap jobs, and then later raised 2 children. Four years ago, with the kids out of the house we bought a new house (first in 25 years!) and decided to splurge on a new bed to go with the old backs. There was real sticker shock there, but the mattress is fantastic; it's paid for itself in better sleep. And by this time one of those cheap mattresses would have been completely broken down; this one is just as firm, supporting, and flat as it was when we bought it.

So I recommend that come a big advance or royalty check you get the best mattress you can find, no matter how much it costs. You'll thank yourself for it.

63:

I second that. It's well worth investing in an orthopaedic mattress. We've had ours for nearly 20 years (wedding gift) and now as I get older, my back isn't thanking me for sleeping on ordinary mattresses.

Wouldn't be without it (or a good futon).

64:

I understand what you mean.
I'm a security guard. Well, really I'm an inventor working as a security guard. OK, really I'm a soldier of the revolution working as an inventor because the fastest way to blow up every oil refinery in the world is to invent a reasonably effective battery...ahem
I also regard it as my right to go shopping at 3PM, or watch first release movies at the lower afternoon price, or consider rush hour to be an urban legend, just as I get to breath the fresh air before all you normal people get up and start your engines. It's the perks of the job.

65:

cod3fr3ak
If he put out one book every ten years, his wife would be ecstatic about the bigger paychecks from his 'real' job and would regard writing as a kind of sanitary, inexpensive, unobtrusive hobby to keep him occupied and out of her way on weekends.

66:

wkwillis: actually, I'm now earning more than I ever pulled in from a "real" day job.

On the other hand, that probably just goes to show that I was crap at demanding pay rises ...

67:

This is making me wonder: do you have a fitness routine? I know some writers have a physical regimen connected their creative process, and I think it would be a neat thing to learn more about. I read Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running last autumn, and it really had an impact. He talks about the solitude and the need for social interaction despite his rather solitary proclivities, as well as the mental discipline cultivated by physical practise. For him, sitting for hours thinking is just as hard as running for hours, because both activities require the same degree of focus and dedication. This is something I'm trying to work on, too, so I was wondering if you had any opinion.

68:

Re: a decent mattress.

Third the comments of Bruce Cohen @62 and Denni @63. After house & car, the bed likely to be one's most expensive purchase. And given that on average, one spends a third or more of life in bed [insert inuendo here], it surprises me how little consideration people give to the mattress purchase decision-making process.

69:

Madeline: swimming three times a week, ideally half a kilometre non-stop. Alas, I'm recovering from a chest bug, so swimming isn't on the agenda for another few days.

Soon Lee: yes, you're absolutely correct about the bed. Except that something in me rebels at the idea of spending £3000-6000 on a piece of furniture, much less one that I'll only experience while I'm asleep. Silly, I know: but we're prepared to upgrade the mattress (expensively, if necessary) if the new one proves inadequate.

70:

RE Roland @ 43. The doctor might well have finished his "urgent" operation early. He has to schedule 4 hours in case there are complications, but the operation might just have happened to be the easiest quadruple bypass/double lung transplant he has ever had the pleasure to perform.

Charlie, so many of us work from home now that I am not sure the old "a writer's life is a lonely life" really holds much water these days.

71:

£6000 for a bed? I came here to reiterate the "stay away from Ikea mattresses" comments but there has to be a happy medium. We bought the second most expensive Ikea mattress and it's been a huge PITA, it is finally quite comfortable following the addition of a memory-foam topper and some fairly aggressive stitching, the main problem was that it came as two single mattresses in one case, so there was always a gap in the middle. The frame I built myself so it is of course perfect ;). My mother recommends Blindcraft for mattresses and we always get a good night's sleep when we visit...

72:

Charlie: thank you!

Re: mattresses, this sounds like an ideal use of fabbing technology. It's a solid, relatively uncomplicated mass, and the user could dictate the materials and program in the desired curvature. You'd need a lot of jets, but there's something to be said for squirting out the night's bedding from a combination of old newsprint and packing peanuts.

73:

Charlie @69:
...much less one that I'll only experience while I'm asleep.

Since solving recurring back problems by getting the right mattress, spending money on decent beds has become a no-brainer for me. The extent to which uncomfortable beds & sleeping poorly impinge on the rest of one's quality of life... Yes sir, you are being silly!

74:

Soon Lee: I'll see that and raise a couple. My quality of life would be in the toilet if it weren't for that mattress because of my back problems.

But I didn't pay out anything like £3000. We didn't go with the temperature memory foam, which would have cost another $400 or $500, but we did get a really good orthopedic mattress, much thicker and firmer than anything we'd gotten before. Total cost, mattress + boxsprings + frame was a little less than USD $2000.

75:

Charlie @ 50:
I sadly must agree, IKEA is to be avoided. Hence, a drinking game to make tolerable the otherwise somewhwat horrifying experience. The Old Ones are Returned, and they do Furniture. But quite honestly, it evolved out of having to go there five times in four weeks with various friends and allies to appropriately populate their lairs.

Robin @ 54:
The craft is improved perhaps, but I don't enjoy the creative nature of the plot quite as much. Some decisions have been made that I think smack a bit of deux ex machina. I think he's putting more love into the Codex Alera than the Dresden files.

Feorag @ 57:
You've abandoned the futon? Someday you'll miss the carpet-burn like wounds that arise from at least one of the two principal uses of the bed. No, really.

But honestly, I wish I could afford some of the space-age bedding. Alas, back to my spring mattress on the floor. But at least it stays cool.


76:

Ikea! Ikea! Cthluhu fhtagn!

Possibly banal observation: this whole GRRM imbroglio seems to be a manifestation of what TVTropes calls Unpleasable Fanbase. It doesn't matter what Martin writes in his blog, or how much time he spends on the erstwhile book, or even how late the book is; anything he does or doesn't do at this point will piss off some vocal fans. If he hand-delivered the book tomorrow morning with their Sunday papers and breakfast in bed, some fans would still feel they owe him a verbal kicking.

77:

NelC: yup. The unpleasable fanbase syndrome is (a) why I make a distinction between readers and fans, and (b) why I try to take anything I hear from fans with a pinch of salt, unless I know them personally and well enough to compensate for their known biases.

I got where I am by listening to advice -- then making my own mind up. Most of the advice I got was rubbish, and before I learned better my acting in accordance with it set me back some years. This is not to say that all advice is bad; it's just that it takes time and experience to learn how to sift the good from the bad.

78:

And one of the things about writing advice is: it's pretty much all great for someone, horrible for someone else, and irrelevant to a third person. The creative mind is weird, complex, hard to map, and prone to change without notice. We all have to try things out and see what works.

79:

NelC: All too true. I was just reading one particularly inane troll who is now complaining, "Oh, GRRM thinks he gave us an update? The thing I've been whining about for donkey's years? Well, no he didn't -- it's not a _real_ update, because he hasn't explained every hold up and exact chapter breakdowns and word counts!"

Some of the vitriolic fans seem outwardly just frustrated and otherwise sensible and rational but, as we've witnessed in these threads, scratch beneath the surface and the self-entitled, irrational ego-wanking comes to the fore.

80:

@19 Cretan's as a whole didn't read. it wasn't something their 'government' encouraged, not even: Spot the dog. RUN! Sorry, you chose a poor example, the Athenians were a bit unnatural at the time with their general enthusiasm for the three Rs

who's (not) waiting for ' the splendour and misery of bodies, of cites' then?

81:

@ 19 Cretan's as a whole didn't read. Their 'government' didn't approve, not even; Spot the dog. RUN! Sorry you chose a poor example, the Athenians were unusual for the time with their universal acceptance of the three Rs. Maybe that irritating democracy had something to do with it.

Anyone still waiting for 'the splendor and misery of bodies, of cities', then? Hah

82:

Charlie @ 53:
"(Hint: authors are lousy at spotting their own grammatical and spelling idiosyncracies.) "

Tell me about it.
The first paper I wrote, pre-{C. in a research ;abe ... we got to the first copy, when the works LIBRARY spotted that a snentece had been missed out of the Abstract ON THE FRONT COVER - which meant that it was nonsense.
I'd looked at at the (recently-deceased, and long retired) head of our group had looked at it, and it had just been missed ....

Novels must be a whole order of magnitude worse.

83:

Typo (how appropriate?)
That should be ... pre-PC in a research Lab ...

84:

Writers are not alone in this - their translators are holed up, all alone as well ;)

85:

@82 -- Ha! I'd thought that was meant for a "Cretan-cretin" play on words.

86:

Thanks for writing, both your novels and here. We're glad you do.

Specials

Merchandise

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 26, 2009 6:38 PM.

The art of being late was the previous entry in this blog.

The 21st century: FAQ 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