I'm bloghopping over at the Inkspot blog today. Please drop by and respond to my question du jour.
I'll be back next Monday with more on Freelance Writing For A Living.
This Writing Life
Thursday, January 31, 2008
February 1, 2008
I'm bloghopping over at the Inkspot blog today. Please drop by and respond to my question du jour.
I'll be back next Monday with more on Freelance Writing For A Living.
Freelance Writing For A Living, Part 4
January 31, 2008
Today's topic is what to write and who to write it for.
And pay attention! This is probably the single most important thing I have to say about making a living as a freelance writer.
A couple years ago an acquaintance of mine who is retired wanted to pick my brain about freelancing. First, I asked him how much money he wanted to make, and it was a very moderate amount. He had income coming in, but he wanted to bring in another $500 a month. No problem, I thought.
But when I told him what I'm going to tell you today, I could tell he either wasn't getting it or was disregarding it. He started obsessing about a particular story idea he had and where he might be able to sell it. Wrong!
Say you've got an idea for a magazine article. You think it's cool. So then you go out and try to find somebody who will publish that story idea.
Well, yes, you can do that. Most people who try to break into freelance writing try this. They say, for instance, "I've recently put my mother into a nursing home, so I want to write an article about that. Who will publish that?"
Okay, yes, that's possible, and I think if an idea really strikes you, fine, pursue it.
[Please pay attention to this, it's important]
A freelance writer is providing a commodity (need) for someone who has a (need) that they have to fill. In fact, magazines and other publications really do not want a hole. They need material. They NEED to have something to go in that publication spot on a very regular basis. It's difficult for them to fill it, whether they're working with staffers or freelancers. Week after week, month after month, they need to make sure they have something well-done, topical, and most importantly THERE. If they got NOTHING, they are SCREWED. (I'm the editor of a technical journal. It only comes out 4 times a year. And let me tell you, I would rather have total crap that I have to rewrite from scratch than have nothing to publish at all).
But a magazine like, say, Cosmo, isn't likely to run an article about the blood-sucking habits of vampire bats (unless it's some new beauty treatment, and frankly, could it be worse than injecting one of the most deadly toxins on the planet into your face to remove wrinkles?)
Thinking up the idea then finding a market for it is BACKWARD.
Let's say that you're into guitar. You play it, you're in a band, maybe you even collect them. So you don't say, "Hey, I want to write an article about playing in a band, who will publish that?" What you do is go to Writers Market and do a search for magazines about guitars or music. You'll find several, including Guitar World. If they take material from freelancers, you're all set.
Now, go through their online archives. If you're serious about it, go to the store and buy a couple copies. Online archives have been a total blessing for freelancers, but if you want back issues, you can usually order them through the publisher. There's even this place I've heard about called a library and the rumor is they have back issues of magazines, too. Go figure.
Look at the magazine and see what they've published in the past. Check out their tone. Check out length. Most of all, see what they're doing. I got a few issues of MacWorld when I bought my computer and it was interesting because I was surprised to read criticism of Mac products and software. And there was a lot of freelance work being done there. (Another thing to check out, the nature of the freelancers). An example: Smithsonian works with a stable of repeating freelancers, people pretty much at the top of the field. But note something else very important about Smithsonian--the writer is almost always injected into the story. The writers essentially become characters in the magazine articles.
Okay. I find idea generation kind of hard, but here's the next step. Let's say, because I'm interested in guitars, that I want to write for some magazine called (I'm making this up), Guitar Today. By going through the magazine, I note that the majority of the articles in Guitar Today are about the industry--reviews of guitars, interviews with guitar store owners and guitar manufacturers. They also typically will profile one musician who's big who uses a specific type of guitar or has a guitar line with Fender or somebody. They almost always profile a luthier, some person living in Idaho or Vermont who makes 6 guitars a year and sells them for $25,000 a piece and is getting rave reviews.
Now, just this last weekend (I'm not making this up) my family and I visited a guitar store in Lansing, Michigan called Elderly Instruments. We bought my oldest son a Paul Reed Smith Custom SE. (The youngest son's similar guitar is awaiting a tax return). It's a seriously cool store. Now, here are potential story ideas for Guitar Today.
-A profile of Elderly Instruments.
-An evaluation of Elderly Instruments website sales (www.elderly.com)
-How to motivate your sales staff (commissions, spiffs, etc).
-Hands off the merchandise. In a store that operates by getting people to try out the guitar, how do you keep would-be customers and lookee-lous from damaging the instruments?
-Interview the bouncer, the little old lady at the front of the store who checks all the packages going out to make sure you didn't come in with a 60-year-old Yamaha acoustic and walk out with a Martin. I just know she has stories to tell.
-You can buy a Yamaha acoustic at Target for about $280 and a Martin acoustic at Elderly Instruments for $10,000. Is there a difference? (There is, but I'm not convinced, at least for me, that it's worth $9,000. I hope to God there's a middle ground.).
You see where I'm going here?
Let's break it down.
1. Find general topics that interest you (or that leverage your interests).
2. Research markets to find publications that handle the types of things that interest you.
3. Analyze the market to figure out what kind of topics they publish and how they approach those topics (also, ask yourself the question: Who are the readers?)
4. Brainstorm story ideas for that particular market.
5. Focus on the perfect story for that market that hasn't been done before, or comes at a common story topic with a fresh slant. (This ain't easy).
6. Ask yourself: What is this publication looking for?
Trust me, this works a lot better, particularly on an ongoing basis, then coming up with an idea and hunting for a story idea.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Freelance Writing For A Living, Part 3
January 30, 2008
Part 3 comes down to this: leverage your experience.
Okay, what does that mean?
It means, if you have worked as a nurse and want to become a writer, focus on nursing magazines and healthcare and medicine-related topics at first.
If you're a business person, same thing.
If you're a lawyer, look at legal issues either for other lawyers or for consumers.
But, but, but... you might say: I don't HAVE any of that.
Yeah, you probably do. Are you a parent? Do you have parents? Do you like sports? Cars? Scrapbooking? Are you a musician? A teacher? Like gardening? Vacations? Beaches? Travel? Disney World? Kinky sex?
There are publications that focus on all of those and more.
In my case, when I started dabbling in nonfiction, it was anything BUT clinical diagnostics, because that's what I was trying to get away from. And I did get a couple things published, primarily articles about mystery authors for The Armchair Detective. But that's not much of a market.
Then one day, my boss, who knew that I did a lot of writing (and at that point had published a couple articles and a lot of book reviews) asked me to write an article for "ADVANCE for Medical Laboratory Professionals" about cytogenetics labs with the notion that it would focus on the Henry Ford Hospital cyto lab and they'd get free publicity. I didn't quite work out that way, but it changed my life. I had a degree in microbiology and public health and had been working for some time as a cytogenetics technologist, which is essentially a medical technologist with a specialty.
I wrote an e-mail query to the then-editor and she jumped at it. It paid probably $125 or $150 and that was the most I'd ever been paid for an article at the time, and that tends to be its own positive reinforcement. So I pitched her on something else and she accepted. Then I pitched her on a column on genetics and she went for it, and I did that column for several years.
Here's the thing: one of the first things you need to get started are clips; that is to say, copies of some published articles. You don't have to have been paid for them. The people you pitch don't need to know that. But they're going to want to see something you wrote that got published so they know you can write. (You CAN write, right?) You might have to write something "on spec", which means for free, for a nonprofit or for some crappy magazine that nobody's heard of, or for your church newsletter or your school or a newsletter you're involved with. (Hey, are you a member of a writer's organization like ITW, MWA or one of the many others? Volunteer to write something for their newsletter. Voila! Published clip. Or try a local newspaper.)
Once you've got a couple published clips, you can start to build on those.
I wrote tons of articles and columns for ADVANCE. I still do from time to time--just had an article in the latest issue. I also wrote for some of their sister publications. Then I took a piece I'd done on genetic and biotech patents for them, and pitched a publication called Drug Discovery & Development with the same topic. And they bought. And boys and girls, DDD didn't pay $150 an article, they paid $.85 per word and the article was about 2000 words in length. And so I pitched them another. And another. And they had a sister publication, Genomics & Proteomics, and I did some pieces for them. Then they started an online publication, BioPerform.com, which didn't last long, but I wrote a lot of $100 news pieces for them--about 7 a week for a while.
And then, you see, although I no longer write for DDD or GP or BioPerform, I also wrote for Biotechnology Healthcare, because it was a related topic. And I write regularly for Podiatry Management, mostly about the business of doctor's offices. And when Podiatry Online was utilizing freelancers, I wrote for them. And I did a few articles for a publication that focused on the regulatory issues involved with healthcare.
And then I applied to a job posting for someone looking for a freelance researcher and healthcare writer focusing on the clinical lab business, and that's turned out to be my biggest client, writing about the business and regulatory issues involved with clinical diagnostics. But I'm also branching out a bit this year to write about business and regulatory issues of biotechnology and telemedicine.
And that's how it's done.
So if your only experience is as a pizza delivery guy, there's a publication for the pizza industry; and write about security for pizza deliveries people, or bizarre customers, or the economics of tipping, or wear and tear on your car, insurance coverage if you're a pizza delivery guy...
Here's the thing that can be a bit frustrating. Like I mentioned earlier, I wanted to get away from the clinical lab industry. And I ended up writing about it. Then, I was making a deliberate effort to write less about it, when I got a big client that dragged me back. I'm reasonably happy with that (money, as I said, can be its own reward), but I do make an effort, within a certain framework, to make sure I write about a variety of things--government regulation, business, marketing, technology, trends, etc.
And it can take you in some interesting places. And you'd be surprised how things might work out--I wrote an article for a publication for plumbing contractors on what they needed to think about when purchasing health insurance. Which led me to write other things for plumbing contractors--like liability insurance and then... about dealing with plumbing pests like rats and snakes and insects... and how to get into commercial refrigeration work...
You see? Your expertise isn't just the entree to the topic. It's your entree to the publication.
So, think a little bit about what you can leverage.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Freelance Writing For A Living, Part 2
January 29, 2008
Yesterday I gave you some idea of what types of writing there is out there. Here are some source materials where you can look for writing jobs.
This is a pay site, less than $100 a year, and has databases and chat rooms for freelancers to use. Perhaps more importantly, every week you get a newsletter that focuses on a market that pays $1 per word or more (usually), with what they want, who to contact, and how. I got my information about Lowe's for Pros off one of their databases, which more than paid for membership. Also has a wider focus, since there are sections on copywriting and corporate writing and ghostwriting.
There's a text version of this, but I don't know why anybody would bother now. The online version has a pretty decent search engine and is updated daily. What is it? It's a pay site (you can get monthly access for just a couple bucks) that is a huge database of magazines, books publishers, etc., that you can search by title, topic, pay rates, etc. Pretty much indispensible when looking for writing gigs.
Every Tuesday they update their list of freelance writing jobs, i.e., people looking for freelance writers. A lot of these are culled off Craig's List, but I've gotten some significant work off their ads. And it's free.
This is basically a blog by a professional blogger and freelance writer. She regularly posts freelance gigs here. They overlap with Morning Coffee a bit, but there are also some fresh ones there.
A regularly posted listing of freelance writing gigs.
A regularly posted listing of freelance writing gigs.
Emma Hitt is a very successful medical and science writer. People routinely send her job postings about medical and science writing jobs of all sorts, and if you're on her Hitt List, she sends you a free newsletter every week or so with job postings. Her website also has a lot of good advice for freelancers. This is very focused for medical and science writing, so if you're not into that field, it's a waste of time (the advice for writers is useful, though). The work she posts tends to be higher level than mine--advanced degrees in science or medicine often required--but I've gotten some leads here.
And don't forget Monster.com when you're digging for jobs. Type in "freelance writers" or "freelance journalists" or "freelance editors" and there are often a lot of jobs to check out.
The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman
This book was something of a revelation for me. He's probably overly optimistic and he's a huge fan of cold calls, but for his type of writing--copywriting--that's the way to go. I recommend this to all would-be freelancers for two reasons. One, his attitude is worthwhile. That is to say, he thinks you can make a go of it and that a good, dependable writer has value in the marketplace. And two, he gave me my first real sense of just how many ways there were to make a living as a freelance writer.
How to become a Fulltime Freelance Writer by Michael A. Banks
This may have come along for me at the right time. I read it the year before I did go fulltime. Michael very wisely tells you everything that can go wrong and gives you a good sense of how to manage the money.
Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Robert Bly
I'm actually not that big a fan of this book. But Bly was Bowerman's inspiration. Bly is big into direct mail and copywriting and he's less optimistic (or dare I say it, more realistic) than Bowerman. He's also a proponent of "work your ass off if you want to make real money" versus Bowerman's more "you can make great money and still have time to goof off" approach. I'm a bigger believer in Bly's approach than Bowerman's, but the two books pretty much cover the same ground. It should also be mentioned that Bly is pretty much THE guru for this type of writing.
Six-Figure Freelancing by Kelly James-Enger
An interesting book. I haven't hit the 6 figures yet and don't know if I ever will (or want to; let's face it, you're going to be crazy busy as a freelancer to make that much money unless you get into some really terrific top markets or sell a book for a significant chunk of change). Nonetheless, she has some very good advice about managing money and maximizing your profits from writing.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Freelance Writing For A Living: Part 1
January 28, 2008
One of you (Aimless) asked that I write about becoming a freelance writer. Well, be careful what you wish for, I suppose. I'm starting a series of blog posts on that subject. I'll try to keep them short and focused, because it's a subject I can write on and on and on about. If you have specific questions, ask them, I'll try to answer. If you're an experienced freelancer and you have something to add or disagree with me, please put your 2 cents in.
I've been a full-time freelance writer for about 3-1/2 years. My first paid publication was in 1993 (it was a whopping $50), and I probably could have done this much earlier if I hadn't spent all my time and energy on fiction writing. Now I'm making a LOT more than I did working for Henry Ford Hospital and I love it.
So, Part 1: What do you write?
I'm always discovering new ways of making money writing. But here are some of them.
My writer friend Eric Mayer once said to me, "Magazine writing is brutal."
What he meant was, in terms of making a living, it's hard to do. The pay is all over the board, the work tends to be irregular and unpredictable. That said, I've done a fair amount of it and I find it to be some of the more satisfying writing I do. I do less of it now, but I keep my hand in because you never know when one type of writing will dry up on you.
There are 2 broad types of magazines, consumer and trade. Consumer are the ones you see at the grocery and drug store--Redbook, Cosmo, Time, Newsweek, Guitar World, etc. Trade journals are aimed at specific professional readers--Podiatry Management, which I write for, for podiatrists; Medical Economics, for physicians; Gravel Quarry, or some such thing, aimed at people in the gravel industry. Or, frankly, name an industry, they probably have a magazine aimed at their readers: nursing, medical technologists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, business people, minority business people, retail managers, pizza store owners, food distributors, network administrators, funeral home directors.
I've done a little bit of consumer mag writing. Here's my gut reaction to it: it's hard to break into and unless you're lucky and break into the top ones, the pay is fairly mediocre. I've written a lot for trade publications (as well as websites) and the pay is better, sometimes excellent and they're a lot easier to break into than consumer magazines. Any writer thinks they can write: "11 Ways To Make Improve Your Love Life" for Cosmo, and if they do it successfully, they'll get paid a bundle. But the competition is fierce. Now, can you write, "7 Ways To Increase Your Podiatric Practice's Profits"? Because if you can, or are willing to figure out how--and apply that "7 Ways..." sort of article to different fields, then you're going to break into trade publications.
Ack! That's sort of how I feel about writing for newspapers. I had a nice relationship with The Oakland Press here in Michigan. I wrote very regular book reviews for $75 a pop and the occasional feature, typically about medicine, although I wrote one for the food section. They paid me $150 per piece. Then a new editor-in-chief came in, fired damn near everybody on staff including the editor I worked with, essentially eliminated the book page and cut back on features. I also hear they cut the freelancer rate in half, but I don't know because they were already my worst-paying client. I didn't stick around and find out. I did the book reviewing for the free books and because I was getting paid to read books I was going to read anyway, and I did the features when they were easy to do. I also really liked the editor, which sometimes can make up for a lot of deficiencies. Newspapers are cutting back on everything--staff, pay, etc. That probably means that there will be more openings for freelancers, but the pay will get even worse. The pay sucks now. But it's always an option, particularly if you're trying to break in and get clips for your portfolio.
Big corporations crank out a lot of paper. They write press releases, internal technical manuals, external technical manuals, advertising copy, annual reports, etc. Unlike magazines which typically pay per word, they generally pay per hour or per project. I did some work for the Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit when I first started out. I charged $40 an hour (a low rate, actually, but I needed the work). The communications department wanted the majority of the center's specialists to be part of an upcoming national directory of cancer specialists, so I got the resumes of about 35 of the docs and wrote their bios and filled out their entry forms. I also put together an internal directory. It wasn't glamorous, but it added up. Karmanos decided they wanted to fill their writing needs internally and asked me if I would apply. I tried to convince them I could do it without being their employee, but apparently they wanted some line-of-sight supervision and I didn't apply for the job. (My guess is what they really wanted was to be able to stick their head in the writer's office at 11:45 and say, "Hey, Mark, Dr. Worthington's got a press conference at 12:00 and we need you to write up a statement for him." I would have been glad to do that for them as a freelancer, but they would have paid a premium for the privilege).
I call it junk mail, but it's direct mail advertising and yes, somebody writes it, yes, somebody gets paid well for it. People like Robert Bly and Peter Bowerman have made excellent money writing this stuff. Not my cup of tea or my type of writing, but don't close your mind to it. It can pay for a lot of lattes.
I've been doing this sort of work increasingly. It's slowly turning me into a business analyst, which is surprising, to say the least. But the fact is, there are a ton of businesses and marketing people and researchers and government bureaucrats and investors who are looking for things like, which laboratory companies make the most money, how much they make, how much they spend, and what the trends are. And it's true for almost any business. This is turning into about 80% of my work.
I do less of this now, but I used to do a lot of it, of a limited sort. In the computer industry, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industry, the money's laying around in great big freaking piles waiting for writers to come along. If you've got an MS or PhD in science or MD and want to make a lot of money, working on documentation for grants and drug applications for pharmaceutical companies is a big field where $100 an hour is pretty much a starting point. Frankly, despite my technical background, this stuff is beyond me and I've steered clear, even when tempted by the siren song of high pay. I am, however, still the editor of a technical journal.
I think that's enough for today. There's even more out there. Tomorrow I'll give a list of freelance writing resources and recommended books.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Another F***ing Book
January 25, 2008
The title of this post comes from a visit I made to the local Meijer store last week (for those of you not in their market, a Meijer store is like a Wal-Mart only not as annoying). I swung by the office supplies section to pick up some 3-ring binders, one to put all the various TABS and sheet music I've been collecting in a folder for songs I'll someday learn on the guitar, and the other two to try and deal with the various drafts of two major business reports I'm writing. I figured it's worth a shot, anyway.
The office supply section is right next to the aisle for books and I had this compulsion to swing by and see what was there and the thought that immediately popped into my head, and this is verbatim, was, "Don't go buy another fuckin' book."
Now, that's not a good thought for a guy who's a novelist and bibliomaniac. It suggests a major attitude problem, which is undoubtedly true, or at least it was on that day.
If you look at the photo, that's one wall of my office. It ignores the large bookcase upstairs and REALLY ignores the walk-in closet in the adjoining room that is FILLED with books and books and more books. And if you look really closely at the bottom 2 shelves of the tall bookcase, you might notice that they appear to be double-stacked. As a matter of fact, they are, and the books facing outward are on my to-be-read (TBR) list. There are 36 of them, which is half a year's reading, give or take.
And should I make it through those, I can always go into the walk-in closet and pull out one of the literally hundreds of unread books in there, or even re-read a favorite. Nope, no shortage of reading material in the Terry household. And my son keeps buying YA SF and fantasy and adventure that almost all looks good. Got some more Anthony Horowitz to read, for sure.
I think that day, I was being particularly struck by annoyance with the publishing world and my place in it, and I was also, as I was thinking yesterday, a two gallon bucket with a three gallon life. So I wasn't feeling very charitable toward those folks lucky enough to get their books on the shelves at major chain retail stores. I was, to say the least, wildly jealous and a little bit--although only momentarily--pissed off about it.
Anyway, I'm over it and just thinking of some books I want to buy. Because, after all, you can't have too many books, right?
Thursday, January 24, 2008
The Best Healthcare System In The World?
January 24, 2008
As you may have noticed, individuals running for president often make claims that are, frankly, bullshit. My wife and I watched the Iowa debates and noted that just about every candidate said something along the lines of: "Although our healthcare system is broken, it's still the best in the world." There were variations on that, but it was the gist of everybody's statement, despite its inherent contradiction.
I'm working on a white paper about retail-based convenient care clinics and I was reading a paper titled: "Convenient Care Clinics: The Future Of Accessible Health Care" by Tine Hansen-Turton, Sanda Ryan, Ken Miller, Mona Counts and David Nash, and no, I don't imagine readers of this blog care who wrote this paper. Anyway, here's a quote from the paper that I thought was interesting and falls under the category of ONE OF MARK'S PET PEEVES:
"While the U.S. spends more annually on health care than any other country in the world, it still only ranks 37 of 191 in health system performance, according to the World Health Organization 2000 evaluation of health systems worldwide. Most western countries have socialized medicine with minimal baseline health care coverage for all citizens. However in the United States, health care is still primarily employer-based and provided through private health insurance programs. A new report from the Commonwealth Fund shows that 34% of Americans pay more than $1,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses due to coverage lapses, compared to 14% in Canada and Australia and 4% in the United Kingdom."
We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Making It Big (Or Just Making It)
January 22, 2008
While walking Frodo in the snow this morning, I was thinking about this whole "success" thing as it regards to writing and making a living at it.
I, like undoubtedly many novelists and aspiring novelists, have had dreams of "making it big." That, presumably, means, making a ton of money. I was inspired, after all, to try my hand at fiction when I read an essay by Stephen King where he talks about how he received a $2500 advance for the hardcover rights to "Carrie" and then $400,000 for the paperback rights to the same novel--in 1972. (Here's an eye opener, people. My advance for The Devil's Pitchfork was $1500. Then take my agent's 15% and the government's 28% and throw in website fees, postcards, postage and other promotional items and, well, you do the math).
What I was thinking about today was that, if you take bestselling authors out of the equation--just eliminate Stephen King, Lee Child, Barry Eisler, Sue Grafton, Dick Francis, John Sandford, et al., then your image of the publishing industry and novel-writing takes a very big hit.
Yes, there are a fair number of novelists out there making a living as novelists who are not bestselling authors. They might creep onto a bestseller's list from time to time, but they are not, per se, our name brand bestselling authors.
Then there's another bunch, a really huge bunch I think, who can't be said to be writing novels for money. Clearly I'm one of those at the moment. For the hopes of money--maybe. From a strictly dollars and cents point of view, I can make more money writing a magazine article or two for some of my regular clients than I make from my novels and I don't have to spend a dime on promotion. I can spend the same amount of time and energy on some of my bigger business projects as I would on writing a novel and outstrip the money made by factor of 10 or 20.
But this isn't about WHY DO IT THEN? That's a subject for a different day.
Here's partly where my brain was going. In terms of nonfiction, my writing business, I'm really very successful, I think. Certainly in the top third, maybe even higher (knock wood, it's a slippery business). I've surpassed my own expectations, shattered them really. I've also watched my writing go off in directions I never (ever) dreamed it would. I'm writing things I wasn't even aware existed for freelancers 4 or 5 years ago. And my willingness to learn and tackle new things has been part of the success.
But back to my point. That is, for that group of novelists who aren't bestsellers and who aren't "the rest of us" but who write novels and actually make a living at it, I'm struck by several things. They may or may not apply in all cases, but here they are:
1. They write a lot. Sometimes multiple books a year. Sometimes under pseudonyms. Sometimes in multiple genres. Short stories. They may very well supplement their novel writing with other things like writing magazine articles or teaching writing part-time or putting on seminars. They are, to put it mildly, working their ass off. (They may also have spouses with sizable incomes, but that's a different matter, ultimately).
2. They promote a fair amount. Some of them promote like their hair is on fire. Some, to my surprise, promote very little because their publishers do a fair amount of it for them (go figure). But they're all very aware that they need, somehow, to get the reader's attention.
3. They're very aware of subsidiary income and placement. These are 2 separate things, but what it comes down to is, first, subsidiary income--they might get a hardcover sale, but they also get a paperback sale, and an audiobook sale, and foreign sales, and maybe a movie option, and an e-book sale. In other words, a $1000 sale to Slovakia doesn't do much for their pocketbook, but a $1000 sale to Slovakia, a $2000 sale to Germany, an audiobook sale for $800, and $1500 to France, a $500 e-book option... it adds up. Placements means: my book gets on the shelf at Wal-Mart or at the bookstores at airports or next to the cash register at the grocery store or on the front table at Borders and Barnes & Noble. Although they may not have control over this, it's a big freaking deal, and they're lobbying someone for it--agent, editor, publicist, God, sacrificing virgins, whatever.
4. They're not getting rich. Just like if they were freelance writers (like me) or journalists or accountants. They are "making it" but not "making it big." It's a job and they're doing okay.
5. No freaking stability, but faith anyway. This is my impression. They all know they could be dropped by their publisher. That in this business, shit happens. Editors change houses. Publishing priorities shift. Publishers go out of business or cancel contracts or whatever. They're aware they're in the position of someone free climbing a cliff in a gale, but they have faith in their skills that they can hang on and proceed up the cliff without getting blown off.
Monday, January 21, 2008
My Weekend Adventure
January 21, 2008
My youngest son--seen here in double vision--got into wrestling a couple months ago. Our school system has a wrestling club and a pretty hot wrestling program, so Sean, age 9, joined the wrestling club. He seems to love it.
Leanne and I don't know much about wrestling. It's not a sport either of us spent much time paying attention to. I did a little wrestling in junior high gym class, so I have the idea, but I didn't know much about competitive wrestling.
On Sunday, he had his first club meet and there were several hundred kids from all over the state there. I had to get up before 6:00 and take Sean (it was 4 degrees with a wind chill factor of -10) up to the high school by 7:00 for weigh-in. Yes, he's a whopping 76.2 pounds.
Then there was a lot--and I mean A LOT--of sitting around and waiting. Then my wife and oldest son showed up a little bit before it began, sometime after 9:00. Ian, my oldest, was giving us major 'tude because he didn't want to be there. We eventually stopped threatening him and gave him chores to do like, "Here's $10 bucks, go find us something to drink and a snack. Go!" That usually works very well in changing a teenager's attitude, I've found.
Sean received a "bye" on his first round, which is to say, there were an odd number of wrestlers in his age and weight class, so he didn't wrestle and had to wait for the second round. Then about 45 minutes later he was called to wrestle. This was done in the gym and there were about 9 pairings going on simultaneously. Sean's opponent was more experienced and two things struck me most. First, it was clearly a different experience for Sean from wrestling his buddies during the club. This kid wanted to win and he had more experience and he was going to fight hard to win. And secondly, I thought Sean handled himself very well. He was down a bit by points--2, I believe--but for a first match he showed a lot of heart. He eventually lost by a pin.
Then he was going to have another round later. Since we didn't know how long this was going to be and Ian had displayed enough brotherly support and reasonable behavior, I decided to take him home. Unfortunately, I missed Sean's match by about 10 seconds. I mean, really, I walked back in the gym with him stepping off the mat. He lost again, but it was 11 to 9, and Leanne, who had been acting as coach, said he was great, it was very close, and it was obvious that he had gained some confidence from the first time around.
One of Sean's friends, who's a much more neurotic kid, had one of those odd sports experiences. He was wrestling his opponent (Sean's friend was clearly outmatched) and they were all over the mat and the ref--who are typically kids from the high school wrestling team--didn't move quickly enough and they wandered into another wrestling area and Sean's friend tripped over another ref lying on the ground checking for a pin. Sean's friend took a pretty hard fall and then, being the kind of kid he was, had a meltdown.
I saw a fair amount of that with the younger kids. The ages for the wrestling clubs range from age 5 to 14 and it was interesting and a little dismaying at times to see how the younger kids handle things. Sometimes they were crying because they lost or sometimes because they were hurt or took some slamming around they didn't expect. I can appreciate that, actually. One of the most common expressions I noted in kids who were wrestling for the first time was a kind of "controlled panic." A sort of, "holy shit, this isn't what I expected it" look on their faces as their opponent went after them. Then, in most cases--not all--their training kicked in and they started fighting back and hard.
I'm not at all a "this will make a man out of him" kind of guy. If Sean likes it, fine, we'll support it. If he doesn't, hey, life's short, find something you like to do. At the moment, he seems to like wrestling. I see some value in it--grace under pressure, persistence, hard work. And if it's fun for him, it's probably better for him than hanging out in gin joints and pool halls--these 9-year-olds, you give them an inch, they take a mile :)
At the risk of sounding like a real doofus, I'm reminded of a line from the second Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan. Spock is asked by Kirk if his crew is ready for the mission and Spock essentially says, each will rise to the occasion depending on their abilities, nature and training.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Tell Me What He's Thinking
Friday, January 18, 2008
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Pictures of My Office
January 17, 2008
I've often looked at photos of writer's offices with a weird kind of fascination.
We haven't quite joined the digital age when it comes to photography, but we do have a digital video camera that allows us to take still photographs. I needed my wife to shoot some pics of me with a coat and tie on for a gig I've got as an editorial advisor, so while I had the camera all juiced up and ready to go, I shot some pics of my office.
I don't know what happened to one of the photographs, of my bookshelves, but the top is of my workstation. It's the first desk I had, the oak one, then a computer desk I inherited from my father, and a folding table that I keep supplies and materials on. The monitor on the folding table is awaiting a computer to go with it. When I bought the iMac, it came with a 24-inch monitor (actually, it's an all-in-one design) and I haven't quite figured out what to do with the second monitor yet.
The second photo is of my office manager's home-away-from-home, in other words, a futon that he sleeps on when he decides he needs to keep an eye on me. Hence, the blanket that's all over the place. Please note the white board.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
What is Literature?
January 16, 2008
Tobias S. Buckell wrote a piece about "what is science fiction,"and here it is:
I've always had this theory that literature is humanity dreaming. When you dream you process your past and what has happened to you. And to match that, I think that science fiction is our imagination, the daydreaming of the species. It's something completely different, and it explains why science fiction works so differently for many different people.
The imagination of inventors, the question 'what if,' the suspicion that the world may be different than it seems, that is where genre lies.
But that's just *my* imagination at work.
* * *
Frankly, I couldn't quite get past the idea of "literature is humanity dreaming."
That's really quite lovely.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The Michigan Primary
January 15, 2008
Today is the Michigan Primary. I wrote about my annoyance with this earlier, but I wanted to point out some things to people who might be watching the horse race, such as it is.
First, the date was moved up. The DNC censored Michigan's democratic party as a result and supposedly the results of today's primary won't count for anything because the DNC says they won't accept the delegates. To which I can say, as a registered democrat: "DNC, go fuck yourself."
Chances are, whoever wins today's democratic primary will then grant amnesty to Michigan. (To which I can say, as a registered democrat: DNC, go fuck yourself.:)
Why did the Michigan democratic party (and ME!) think it was a good idea for Michigan (and we're not alone, because Florida and Nevada and Wyoming moved their's up, too) to move up their primary?
I'll tell you why and we have a perfect example. I can explain it in two words: BILL RICHARDSON.
"What?" you say? Yes, Bill Richardson. Who dropped out of the race after losing the New Hampshire Primary. Now, I don't know if I would have voted for Richardson in the primary if he had stayed in. I might have. It's a moot point now because he's no longer running for president. (It's a double moot point, because the only candidate on the ballot today is Hillary Clinton. More on that in a moment).
From a strictly resume point of view, Bill Richardson is probably the most qualified candidate. I thought every time Hillary Clinton tried to hammer home the point that the country needed somebody more qualified than Barack Obama in office, that Governor Richardson should have looked at Senator Clinton and said, "Thank you for the endorsement, Senator Clinton." He after all has been ambassador to the UN, Secretary of Energy, a congressman and a governor. He has hands-on experience in all the areas the U.S. is currently having problems with--energy and international relations.
But the man ain't in the race no more.
Anyway, as I said, it's a double moot point. If you're a republican in Michigan, feel free to vote for one of your monkeys--Romney, Huckabee, McCain, et al. (And just a note to all you republicans who want to vote for McCain--the man is currently 71 years old, the same age Reagan was in his 2nd term. He'll be 72 by the time he gets into office. Better find out who he plans to have as vice president--now!)
Anyway again, if you're a democrat (to the DNC: Go fuck yourself), you essentially have two choices. You can vote for Hillary Clinton or you can vote for UNDECIDED.
YOU CAN NOT WRITE IN YOUR DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY CHOICE--IT WILL CANCEL YOUR BALLOT.
It's either Hillary Clinton or UNDECIDED. (And you know, I'm not entirely sure why that is the case, but it is, and from what I can see, it's pretty damned stupid).
Somebody in the Michigan democratic party has suggested rather than just moving our dates up, the DNC (Well, you know how I'm feeling about you right now, don't you?) and RNC should consider a rotating schedule, so that some elections it starts in the south and some elections it starts in the midwest and some in the west and east, etc, rather than to have this Iowa, New Hampshire, Carolina trifecta that dominates the candidate selection process.
Gets my vote.
Monday, January 14, 2008
My Own Problems
January 14, 2008
I popped onto my niece's blog this morning. She's getting her PhD in social policy (or something) in Boston and the workload is...
Well, anyway, in her blog she commented about something her mentor said about everybody getting in a circle and sharing their problems, then asking themselves, would you trade with anybody?
Probably not seems to be the answer.
And I pondered that a bit as I walked Frodo and decided that, although I would like some of my problems to go away or be solved, they are MY problems and I wouldn't trade them for somebody else's problems. At least...
I think so.
Friday, January 11, 2008
The Book Brahmins Questions
January 11, 2008
Shelf Awareness, a newsletter I get, generally has a section on Fridays where they interview "Book Brahmins" (and no, I find the reference a bit vague) and ask the same questions. Today, for instance, they interview Douglas Preston (whose book is in the mail, any day now...). Since no one seems to be requesting I become the next Book Brahmin, I thought I'd appoint myself and answer them anyway.
On your nightstand now:
I'm reading The Overlook by Michael Connelly. I also have Time Magazine from the beginning of the year, the one with Vladimir Putin on the cover, a year-old Smithsonian--just finished reading an article about albatrosses--and I finished MacWorld while my youngest son was taking a shower this morning. I've also got A Thousand Bones by PJ Parrish on my desk (my "office" book) to be read during slow computer downloads, potty breaks, etc.
Favorite books when you were a child:
I suppose it depends on what age you consider me a child, but I would say The Young Unicorns by Madeleine L'Engle.
Your top five authors:
Dick Francis, Robert B. Parker, John Sandford... this just got tricky. When Ross Thomas was alive, he'd be up there. Sue Grafton, although as I've mentioned, I'm not compulsive about her books for the last 4 or 5 years. Rick Riordan might be up there. Stephen King has been influential. David Morrell, Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston, Robert Crais, Jonathan Kellerman. Paul Levine...
Book you've faked reading:
Howard's End by EM Forster
Book you are an evangelist for:
Bag of Bones by Stephen King.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I've done this a lot, but the most recent one in my memory is Stealing the Dragon by Tim Maleeny. There were other factors than the cover, but the cover was definitely a big factor.
Book that changed your life:
I don't remember the actual title of the book, but it was a collection of essays by a number of horror writers, all writing about Stephen King. The essay in particular that changed my life was the introductory essay by Stephen King called something like "The Making of a Brand Name." It's what inspired me to become a professional writer and most definitely changed my life.
Favorite line from a book:
This might not be exact, but it's close:
"The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming." From Glitz by Elmore Leonard
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Bag of Bones by Stephen King
I've re-read and listened to audio versions of this novel, but I was blown away by it the first time I read it.
Now, it's not a meme, but feel free to ask yourself these questions.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
My Brain Is Like A Meteor Shower
January 9, 2008
I note that I either have nothing to say or too much to say. Or rather, I don't know what to say about what I want to say. Or...
Hey, when has not having anything to say stopped me?
Just sent out my first invoice of 2008. Whee!
Got an e-mail yesterday from an audiobook company that was interested in the rights to my books. That. Is. So. Cool. I'll keep you posted. (And yes, for those of you "in the know" I do find a vicious sort of satisfaction in that).
I'm working on two novels. One is CHINA FIRE. I'm currently rewriting what I'd done on it so far, thanks to the excellent comments of Natasha, AKA Spyscribbler. Thanks! I'm also working on a YA novel called THE FORTRESS OF DIAMONDS. The best way to describe is to say: What if Indiana Jones had a 16-year-old daughter?
All in all, though, I'm too busy to really be working hard on the novels. Besides the invoice today, I need to finish and turn in an outline for a research report sometime today (but I found time to blog, didn't I?) and I need to dig in and finish proofing and tweaking another research report I got the galley of yesterday. As I commented to my wife when I finished my workday, when you've got 20 things on your to-do list, you're too busy.
But busy is good and I'm sure I'll look back at this busy period with a certain fondness at some point during the year.
Got two books for my birthday: The Overlook by Michael Connelly and Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reich.
I confess to feeling a little blue about my birthday. Or perhaps, just that I was feeling blue about some other things that happened to coincide with my birthday. Or something...
Well, enough of this blather.
Monday, January 07, 2008
Another Trip Around The Sun
January 7, 2008
Jimmy Buffett and Martina McBride
Hear 'em singing Happy Birthday
Better think about the wish I made
This year gone by ain't been a piece of cake
Every day's a revolution
Pull it together and it comes undone
Just one more candle and a trip around the sun
I'm just hanging on while this old world keeps spinning
And it's good to know it's out of my control
If there's one thing that I've learned from all this living
Is that it wouldn't change a thing if I let go
No, you never see it coming
Always wind up wondering where it went
Only time will tell if it was time well spent
It's another revelation
Celebrating what I should have done
With these souvenirs of my trip around the sun
Yes, I'll make a resolution
Then I'll never make another one
Just enjoy this ride on my trip around the sun
Just enjoy this ride ...
Until it's done
Yes. 44 years old today. Not sure I've learned a damned thing.
Friday, January 04, 2008
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Ups and Downs
January 3, 2008
I'm over at the Midnight Ink blog today, writing about the ups and downs of the writing life
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Do You Believe In Signs?
January 2, 2008
I'm not superstitious. I'm really not, although I do believe in good luck and bad. But I don't believe in fortune cookies or astrology (although I thought a recent Capricorn definition fit me quite well) or any of that stuff.
I do think we live in a huge mystery, more things in heaven and earth, etc.
I'm in between projects at the moment. I probably should focus on CHINA FIRE, but, well, I don't feel much burning desire to. Or much desire to work on any particular project. But that could be because I've taken the last week or so off. I did start a short story and I tried my hand at an SF novel just to see if it would take off (it didn't), but no, I was just fooling around.
But I have had a NOTION for a kids' book. I wrote one last year and it's still being marketed and I enjoyed the change, which is maybe what I need. But this NOTION, that's all it was, a sort of, "it would be cool to write a book for kids like..."
There was no plot, no characters, just a NOTION, a type of book, a type of story.
While I was talking Frodo this morning--we received, I kid you not, 12+ inches of snow on New Year's Day, literally a foot of snow--the sky was a clear blue, it was cold, about 18 degrees, and I'm trudging along streets that have "tracks" but haven't actually been plowed, and I start thinking about this NOTION I have, and the NOTION turns into a CONCEPT, and the CONCEPT turns into a PLOT and I get a TITLE and a CHARACTER and I look up and I see...
See that photo up there? That's pretty much what I saw. The sun was moving toward the south behind the treeline and I could see a red glow and shooting up out of the red glow was, like, a PILLAR OF FIRE for God sakes, which was pretty cool and I thought, "Huh."
It was gorgeous and no, it probably wasn't some creator putting on a light show just to motivate me in a particular direction. Oddly enough, I don't see myself at the center of the universe (the center of MY universe, perhaps, but not the center of THE universe). Still, I came back from the walk, stuck my head in my son's bedroom door and said, "What do you think of this for a title?"
He liked it.
Now I need to go see if there's any real life to this idea.