Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Just like a man

Today's phrases that are not the same:

her man fans
her many fans

Boy, am I glad I caught that one before it went off for copyediting. I'd never have lived it down.

Makes the world go 'round

Article is done. No more medical writing until early September. As always, I like doing it and I'm looking forward to the next assignment, but I'm happy to get a break.

With Josh's new job, we're doing pretty well financially. In fact, I think we just about break even on our salaries alone. That's a good thing, because from June through August, I've only invoiced an average of $1760 a month for freelance work. $1760 is nothing to sneeze at--it quite literally pays the rent, and is letting me slowly pay down credit card debt--but it's a far cry from my $11K of invoices in March. I mean, yes, that was fairly stressful, and there's no way I could have done it had I not been freelancing full-time, but I'm only in the office part-time now. I think I could probably push myself up to about $3000 worth of freelance work a month without too much trouble. At my usual rate of 80 cents a word, that's only 3750 words, or about four or five articles' worth. The only snag is getting the assignments. I've been waiting for them to come to me, and they almost always do... but only to the tune of about $1760 a month.

Just as I was starting to think I should be doing more to scare up new work, two new clients were dropped in my lap, and now I have this conference gig from a third new client, which should net me somewhere between $3500 and $6500 depending on article length and per-word rate. (The former assumes 7 * 700 @ $.70 and the latter assumes 8 * 1000 @ $.80, plus a per diem around $150 or $200.) Even better, the conference client is one I'd been thinking of querying. Now I don't have to! And the editor who wrote to me says he's heard really excellent things about my work, which is always a wonderful thing to be told. I think I can justify being a little lazy, at least until the conference articles are in.

Maybe one of these days I'll be bold enough to raise my rates. An extra five cents a word never hurts.

For new readers wondering why I get so specific when I talk about my freelance income, it's my version of Nick Mamatas exhorting writers to submit outside the usual genre publications. From the perspective of most people selling short fiction to genre markets--or even selling novels to major publishers--the idea of making seventy or eighty cents a word is a pipe dream. I frequently point out that medical journalism routinely pays at that level, not to elevate myself above the poor scrabbling fictionauts but rather to offer it as a very viable career choice to those who think it might suit them. Having been doing this for a year and change, I can write a 700-word story in two hours (including time spent on research, interviews, and transcribing) and charge $560 for it. That's $280 an hour. If I wanted to try to make a career as a fiction writer, I'd quit my office job and aim to pull in around $5000 worth of medical writing a month. That's about 20 to 25 hours' worth. In the remaining four weeks of the month, I'd work on novels and stories. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

I don't think freelancers do one another any favor by hiding their incomes, and I cut-tag this discussion only out of deference to those who really couldn't care less how much I make from writing. My goal with this and other finance-related entries is to help newcomers to the field figure out whether it's right for them, and more specifically, whether it suits their budgets and schedules. I promised myself a long time ago that I'd never try to make a living writing fiction, and I stand by that. From what I can see, it's pretty much impossible. Making a living off of journalism is entirely feasible, however, and it can be an excellent complement to fiction work. I think the best thing I can do with that information is to spread it far and wide and encourage would-be journalists to give it a try.

Writers depend on the help of other writers for survival. As a successful writer--and believe me, the idea that I am a successful writer never fails to shock me--I feel a pretty strong responsibility to the writing community, and especially to those who might need a leg up. And if someone reading this is making far more money at journalism than I am, I'd love to hear what they have to say, and pay it forward when I can.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Go go go go go!

For those keeping score at home, I have 24 reviews to edit in the next two and a half days: eight each for F&SF&H, mystery, and thriller. That's doable, as long as Josh doesn't mind me working a little late today and tomorrow. I forced myself to get nine hours of sleep this morning in preparation, and have given up on vegetarianism for the nonce; I need that steady protein energy.

I also have an article to finish tonight, website graphics to create before I leave on my trip to Portland this weekend, an interview and two reviews to write by the 23rd, and a magazine to lay out (including proofing several articles) and a third review to do by the 30th. After Labor Day, I'll be covering for a vacationing PW editor for a week and then attending a conference the second weekend of September, from which I expect to be assigned seven or eight (!) articles that will occupy the rest of the month; I guess that makes up for having to miss the End of Summer Party. The third weekend of September will be spent in Boston preparing for the Ig Nobel Awards, which happen in early October. I also have a book-related art project to complete by October 1st, and given the conference assignment, I may have to either bow out of that or do something considerably less complex than what I had originally envisioned. Then I go to London for a five-day "vacation" that, knowing me and Kathleen, will be as socially busy as my usual life is work-busy (though probably even more fun). Then I come home and collapse. If I'm doing anything between mid-October and Thanksgiving, don't tell me. I don't want to think about it right now.

Somewhere in there--ha!--I also want to write about Ratatouille and spin-off thoughts about the place of critics and criticism in today's consumer culture. Working title: "Pity the Poor Reviewer, Maligned By His Critics". We'll see if I ever get around to it. In the meantime, go see the movie! I don't remember the last time I saw a movie twice in the theater (er, other than The Rocky Horror Picture Show), but I'm glad I did with this one. It's really brilliant and wonderful. You'll love it. Go enjoy it while it's still on the big screen, where it deserves to be.

Right, back on my head. More of the usual educational bitching when I resurface.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

To whom it may concern

Many publishers and publicists include letters of introduction with their galleys as a way of making it look like they're personally recommending the book to you rather than having some overworked, underpaid intern shove it in an envelope and slap on a mail merge address label. (Instead, the overworked, underpaid intern wedges a folded piece of paper into the galley before shoving it in an envelope and slapping on a mail merge address label.) I would never suspect any of our reviewers of intentionally cribbing from these letters, of course, but sometimes phrases pop up in your brain when you're writing to deadline, and it's not always easy to remember where they came from, so I always glance at them despite knowing full well that the content is full of ridiculous hype and probably factually inaccurate.

I just came across a publicity letter that begins "Dear Piblishers Weekly". I can only hope that was the fault of the above-mentioned overworked, underpaid intern and not the press's editor and publisher, whose signature--actual, not scanned-and-printed--appears at the bottom of the page. Best of all would be a mistake in their mail merge database. I'll have to see if I catch the same error on letters accompanying their future books.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Blink and you'll miss it

Today's words that are apparently the same:


I think "empathetic" sounds far too much like "pathetic", and "empathic" is nicely similar to "telepathic", but the author of the book in question uses "empathetic", so into the review it goes.

Today's words that are not the same:


That one was my fault: not so much a typo as a disconnect between my conscious mind, which was very definitely thinking "many", and the part of my brain that controls my typing, which relied a bit too heavily on the autocomplete for MA__. Oops. I think I need to get more sleep.


"Sometime" is a nice way of pushing "occasional" into the realm of "historical". I'm very fond of it. I admire the reviewer for using it, even if I did have to remove the erroneous s; it's one of those words that looks confusingly like a typo unless you're already familiar with it, so the mistake is understandable.

Today's pet peeve:

"Meticulously crafting a stark and terrifying setting, the story takes several unexpected turns..."

The story did not craft the setting. The author did. This is a dangling modifier, and I see them all the time, most commonly lauding or blaming a book for doing something that was actually done either by the author or by one of the characters. It's tricky to avoid unless you're looking for it, because we so often refer to books, stories, and plots as active entities; "the story takes several unexpected turns" is, on its own, an entirely blameless phrase, and much less awkward than "the author puts several unexpected turns into the story". (I might even let some of the borderline cases pass, like "Rarely mentioning popular series protagonist Getta Rhume, this prequel instead focuses on the adventures of her older brother, Maik." Technically, a book can't mention or focus on anything, but the meaning is clear enough.) I just keep an eye out for initial adverbial phrases with transitive verbs like "craft" and "write" and "create" that point to the author, not the story, as the one taking action.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

So many--four!

-- [Publisher] publicity, this is [name].

-- Hi, this is Rose Fox at Publishers Weekly. I'm working on our review of [title], by [author], and I was wondering if you have the final page count for the book.

-- Sure, hold on. Okay, I've got the finished book here. Do you just want the number on the last page, or do you count the blank page that comes after it?

-- ...

What I did not say: Page counts include all pages. They're always divisible by four--and usually, for trade-size books, by 16--because books are printed on large sheets that are then folded and cut. (This is, by the way, the reason for many intentionally blank pages.) The reason I called in the first place is that the page count on the book's Amazon listing was given as 275, and I knew that couldn't be right. Galley page counts often differ from those for the finished book, so I can't go by that either. This is the sort of information publicists are supposed to have at their fingertips.

What I said:

-- Don't worry about it. I'll just go by what Amazon has. Thanks.