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Writing Excuses Season Two Episode 32: What Dan Learned Last Year

Writing Excuses Season Two Episode 32: What Dan Learned Last Year


Key points: being a full-time author is a lot of work. Self-employment means you are a small business owner, taking care of finances, taxes, publicity -- everything. Forums and websites and fans, oh my! Beware editors bearing changes -- that we need tomorrow. Learn to deal with long-term task switching. Get used to working on a schedule, with deadlines.

[Howard] 15 minutes long because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And I didn't learn very much.
[Brandon] This is the third in our series of three podcasts talking about the most important thing we felt we'd learned in the previous year. We're going to focus on Dan this time. Dan, what did you learn this last year... what is the most important thing you learned?
[Dan] The most important thing I learned in the past year is that being a full-time author is a lot more work and different kinds of work than I thought it was going to be.
[Brandon] Okay. Explain?
[Dan] Well, I kind of imagined in my head this delightful paradise in which I got to sit in my pajamas all day at a computer and write these magnificent stories and then send them off and then they would be magically turned into books. That is not apparently how the publishing industry works.
[Brandon] I [garbled -- manage?] the pajamas part a lot.
[Dan] Oh, yeah, the pajamas part. I can do that easily.
[Howard] I might have worked that way once.
[Dan] It turns out that there is a lot of other stuff going on. We've talked about self-employment in the past. I had the shocking realization that in addition to being a writer, I was also a business owner. I spend a lot of time with financial stuff, with taxes. Also there's edits with the book. There's back-and-forth with your editor all the time. Now that we have the Internet and fan things to keep up on, blogging, all this stuff.
[Howard] Sitting in your pajamas doing rewrites, that's...
[Brandon] Not quite as glorious.
[Dan] Yeah. It's not as thrilling.

[Brandon] Let's break these things down. Businessperson. I think that surprises a lot of us. It surprised me. We don't realize that being a writer equals being a small business owner. When I was young and I thought about writing, I just assumed, "Oh, writers are employed by publishers." Most of you probably know that's not the case, but you are an independent contractor.
[Howard] There are some writers who are employed by their publishers, but those writers are typically columnists employed by newspapers, and that business model is falling apart.
[Brandon] We focus on writing fiction. Writing fiction, specifically novels, but even short stories, you are generally not going to be any kind of staff writer even if you are writing in an established world like Star Wars and something like this. You are being contracted to do this work, essentially. Which makes for all sorts of craziness. None of us... we all took English... well, except for Howard...
[Howard] We all? You two.
[Brandon] We as the general writers... people who dream of being writers, we tend to go into the humanities and have no clue that if this actually pans out, we're going to be small-business owners.

[Dan] In publishing especially, one of the big shocks for me was promotion. Especially if you're big, your publisher will do a lot of promotion for you. But there's also a lot that you have to do for yourself. There's an awful lot of that.
[Brandon] Like what?
[Dan] Now, all of a sudden, my train of thought is gone. One of the things that you have to do is... I've got... okay, I'm sorry, train of thought is not coming back. I thought I could talk myself into it. Howard, you do a lot of self-promotion, tell us about it?
[Brandon] Nice save.
[Howard] I do a lot of self-promotion. I'll start with the Internet stuff. Daily, I'm checking the assorted Schlock Mercenary forums. that's already been frontloaded. Those communities have been established. I have delegated to several people the responsibility of managing the technology sides of those forums. My job is to show up periodically, put in an appearance, say something clever, stop a fight if there is one of those happening, and then move on and get on with other work. It doesn't sound like much, it sounds pretty easy, but if I don't do it, those communities start to fall apart. And those communities are critical for me because the people who are passionate about discussing my work are the people who are passionate about buying the next installment of my work. I need to keep them passionate.

[Brandon] Let's talk about fan interaction. You said the most important thing you learned is that it is more work than you thought. So let's dig in and say what were your expectations, how were they broken, and how can our listeners prepare better?
[Howard] Well, we got the expectations. The expectations were pajamas and computer keyboards.
[Brandon] But what about fan interaction? You knew you were going to have fan interaction...
[Dan] I knew that I would have to do that especially because I've been going to cons for a long time. But the website is a good one. Howard mentioned that. I did not realize going into this the importance of having a website. That, I think, is crucial even for a novelist today. Someone who doesn't rely on the Internet business model the way Howard does. You have to have that website there because that's what people expect. That means I had to design one. Yes, I had someone else build it for me, but I had to tell them everything to put on it.
[Brandon] You had to say I want it to look like this.
[Dan] I had to figure out... I want it to look like this. This is the information that I need. These are the kinds of things that I expect my readers to be looking for. That continues to evolve. I do have a small but growing little forum community there and so that's taking off. The other thing is, one of the cool things is, that the three of us and some other authors share some forum space on Timewaster's Guide I consider part of my job being bringing in other new authors and we've just recently added Aprilynne Pike whose book will have already been out by the time this podcast airs.
[Brandon] It came out yesterday, I think.
[Dan] It came out yesterday. She's a new author who I think is going to be very successful. So I spent some time and we brought her on and she shares our forum now. We're trying to build communities like that so we can cross pollinate our fan bases and grow them that way.

[Brandon] So, fan interaction, businessperson... let's talk about... set those things aside. You were also surprised by the amount of time that you spend working that you aren't writing. I've heard you talk about this before. What are you doing during that time?
[Dan] A lot of research. This might just be because I fell into... my first book that got published was one that I already knew a ton about, so I didn't have to do a lot of research. I was already researching serial killers as a hobby, and I didn't consider it work. Now that I'm starting new stuff, there's a lot of work. Now that an editor is going through my previous stuff with a fine tooth comb, I realized that I have to actually support all the wild claims I make and the descriptions that I use of embalming and of criminal profiling. So I need to go back and find more accurate ways to depict those things. That's a lot of work that I didn't realize was coming.
[Brandon] Let's break here for a commercial.

[Chorus] Let's all go to the lobby, let's all go to the lobby, let's all go to the lobby, and buy ourselves a snack.

[Brandon] We're back. Still talking with Dan about what he learned last year. Let's talk about editing, Dan. This took more time than you anticipated it would take?
[Dan] Yes, it did. I guess I didn't... not so much that I anticipated it not taking much time, but I wasn't expecting to be doing it at all. Obviously you do, but...
[Howard] You thought you were going to hand your book to somebody else and have them make it good?
[Dan] Yeah. But for example, I was just starting my third book when my editor sent my first book back to me and said, "All right. Here's all the changes. I've gone through this. Here's all these suggestions for it. Here's all these things I noticed. Go for it."
[Brandon] And we need it in a week.
[Dan] Yeah.
[Brandon] That's one of the things that really surprised me was how quickly they would want these things. I've said it before. I would write my books years ahead, send them in. They would sit there and sit there and sit there. But you never look at the book that's years ahead, you look at the one that's due next month. Eventually, they would get to mine. I thought naively that if I turned it in early, they would work on it early, and none of us would have...nah, that's not how it happened.
[Howard] The reason that expectation for authors is broken is because we don't have firm schedules. The publication company has a firm schedule. They've got employees in that office 9 to 5 or 7 to 8 or whatever the hours they have to work to get this done. They've got a publication schedule, a marketing schedule, a publicity schedule and you have to plug into that. When it's time to do edits, they know that they can count on you to drop whatever you are doing and write some stuff. Which is why it's good to be me.
[Brandon] Well, maybe. Really... it really happens. I was... my eyes were completely opened. Turning things in early and then them still coming and saying, "Can't you meet this deadline?"
[Howard] It doesn't matter. If they work on it early... the only reason for them to work on it early is if they think they can find a publication slot for it. If they get an early slot for it, that means it's still hurry up and get these edits done in a week.
[Brandon] Oh, now we need this done tomorrow...
[Dan] There's a lot of little emergencies like that, that show up. After... right now the US... because of the weird publishing, the US publishers are just now getting to the point where they are looking at my first book. They were in one of their meetings with it and the marketing people had read it and they really loved it and they were thinking about how can we place this and where should we go with this. My editor mentioned that he had just finished the second one and that it was also really good. They said, "Oh, great, we want to read it." So he called me and he said, "Hey, they want to read this but I want you to change some stuff first and we need this by tomorrow morning." So I had to write an entire new chapter and fix several other things to make this presentable just to the marketing people, let alone the... then another week that I had to spend later to get it ready to go to the copyedit team.

[Brandon] Then there's also things like the cover copy and the marketing copy which are the descriptions of your book that will go on the jacket or that will go to the marketing folks. Those will just come to you and the editor will say, "Hey, I wrote this. I just turned in." You'll go into panic mode because you read this and it gives away the ending. You're like, why did you give away the ending? Oh, I didn't realize I was... or someone in marketing wrote the copy. You have to be able to drop everything and focus on getting that rewritten or giving suggestions to your editor on how to rewrite it or this and that. I would say... taking this and [garbled -- spinning?] it toward our listeners... what can you do? You can learn to deal with interruptions. I think that's going to be... and I don't mean interruptions like the phone rings...
[Howard] Task switching. Be able to stop writing and start writing something completely different. Be able to stop writing and start writing a new synopsis or new marketing copy. Stop writing the middle of chapter 3 and start editing chapter 61 of the book that you wrote two years ago.
[Brandon] There's always a bump there. It always stops me. Then the bigger bump is getting back into what I was doing before. That's a killer of a bump. I'm not sure how to suggest to people that they practice for that because it has blindsided me a number of times. It has ruined books... ones I haven't published... because I get stopped for several months and I can't come back to that book. I eventually have to scrap the whole project because I'm... I wasn't used to it...
[Howard] Whatever momentum you had, was gone.

[Dan] I think one of the ways that people can prepare themselves for that kind of thing is... first of all, we've talked about a schedule. Try to get yourself onto a schedule if you can. The publisher obviously has their own deadlines they need to meet. Try to set those for yourself where possible, so that you can get used to working...
[Brandon] Giving yourself deadlines.
[Dan] Inside of that environment.
[Howard] Giving yourself deadlines. Working to a schedule. The other thing that I've found... I've had a pretty rigid schedule for quite a while. When I started working on the XDM project with Tracy Hickman, I had to change my schedule in order to get the work done. Sometimes you have to do that. You look at your schedule and you say well, I need to squeeze another three hours out of the day for the next month in order to get this done. Where are those three hours coming from? Be flexible enough to adjust your schedule. Then it's going to get nudged back. It's crazy. But being able to do that is one of the abilities... as I alluded to earlier... one of the abilities that your publisher or editor expects you to have.

[Dan] I think in terms of task switching that actually might be easier for the struggling author than it is for the full-time author because that's kind of the environment they write in any way. At least I used to.
[Howard] So it's not something they need to be practicing?
[Brandon] I never did.
[Dan] You never did because you had built your life around the writing schedule that you wanted which is fantastic if you can do it. I wrote I Am Not a Serial Killer in two and a half-hour chunks every night for a while.
[Brandon] But that was... you weren't stopping for three months in the middle of the book. This is what I'm talking about. Task switching is you've got to put that book aside and be able to get back into it. Training yourself to be able to get back into things is very difficult for someone who is an outline writer like me. That... how shall I say... a lot of discovery writers, it's very easy for them to write themselves in. With me, there's momentum. I spend a lot of time planning, and then I start the ball rolling, and then I'm blowing through my outline to the ending. If I stop, I've got to start that momentum again, and that's very difficult for me to do.
[Dan] It is.

[Brandon] Let's wrap this up with a writing prompt from Mister Wells.
[Dan] A writing prompt? All right. I want you to write the first page of a story. Then stop and write the first page of a different story. Then go back and finish the first story.
[Brandon] Part of the fun of these podcasts is listening to us make each other struggle to come up with a writing prompt. This has been Writing Excuses. Join us next week for the last episode of the season.
Tags: deadlines, full-time author, reflections, schedule, self-employment, task switching, writing excuses
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