Business Musings: Whining
I hate it when other people whine about the work that they have to do, especially because of this new world of publishing. The extra work has encroached everywhere. There’s social media, newsletters, website management, blogging (for some of us), podcasting (for some of us), video blogging (for some of us), and on and on and on.
Seems like you could spend hours and hours at work and never write a word. How often have you said that? I know I’ve said it—to myself, quietly, because whenever I hear “not write a word” come out of my mouth, I get so mad that other people should never, ever see the result.
Which is why “not write a word” doesn’t happen in my office for more than a day. I get grumpy when I miss a few days of writing, furious when it turns into a week, and downright ugly when it turns into a month. Making sure Kris writes is a priority, not just for me, but for everyone who has to spend more than fifteen minutes with me.
Today, I did the Google-foo test to see if this site is mobile-friendly. I’ve done the test before, and this site has failed every time, even though the theme that a (now-former) employee set up was supposed to be mobile-friendly. Turns out the (now-former) employee messed with the coding without a clue as to what he was doing, breaking the mobile-friendly stuff about the site. Now I’m faced with rebuilding the website for the second time in two years.
I’m doing it myself this time too, so it’ll go slow. I’m going to fix the RSS problems some of you have noted, and I’m going to repair some other things. That’s most of June. After writing, and the reading I’m doing for Tough Mothers (the women in science fiction project I mentioned last week), and some reading I’m doing for yet another (unannounced) project.
In other words, the website changes will be scattered throughout the month. June will be a bit dicey here at Casa Kris’s Website, and then, I hope, things will improve.
Anyway, I got that news today and was looking at the social media stuff I needed to do and some other things I’ve been putting off and learning some things about the newsletter system I work with and helping someone else with a website and and and…
I heard the beginning of that whine. That because-things-have-changed-I-don’t-have-time-to-write whine.
And that was when social media came to my rescue.
Because I did what any sane person does when she’s overwhelmed. I went to Facebook to spend quality time looking at friends’ old wedding photos and pictures of other people’s cats. (I even posted a picture of my cat this week. So there!)
On my home feed, I saw pictures of a writer-friend who happens to be on a book tour right now. That was followed by photos of another writer-friend who is setting up a booth at a major gaming convention. Which was followed by photos of a third writer-friend signing books at a book fair.
Those writer-friends are doing things I have done before the advent of social media (except for the photographing part and putting their activities on social media). I’ve gone on book tours that have taken weeks out of my schedule. I’ve worked conventions which also took weeks out of my schedule. And I still do book signings (even when vowing I won’t) because I like to support indie bookstores. Since I live at the ass-end of nowhere, those book signings always take at least a day of my time.
After looking at those images, I frowned. One of those big gigantic Huh? frowns, the kind that might lead to an epiphany if I wasn’t careful.
I did some quick math because, y’know, math tends to clarify things.
Let’s call the equations Writing Time While Promoting.
And let’s look at the Old-Fashioned Methods first. By old-fashioned, I mean methods that may exist now, but were common before the digital age.
Even the smallest book tour takes time. Instead of stacking the deck by putting in one of those cross-country marathons that last 10 to 30 days, let’s look at a regional book tour.
Generally, a regional book tour takes five to seven days. For my purposes here, we’ll go with the full week.
The tour starts with a plane flight to somewhere. Then the local guide shows up to drive the writer to the first signing/meeting of the day, which will probably last an hour or two. There will be a business lunch. Then some stock signings (meaning the writer shows up at warehouses and bookstores to sign books in stock, but not to engage with customers). There might be a radio/TV interview stuck in that mess.
Writer and local guide spend a lot of time in a car, a lot of time in traffic. Besides lunch, there will be time for a check-in at the hotel, maybe a short nap. Maybe. Dinner with local booksellers or other writers. Then the main event. A major signing/speech/reading at a major bookstore. Takes the entire evening.
Back to the hotel for at least six hours of sleep, maybe more, maybe less. Up the next day to do it all again.
Time to write if the writer pushes is: Airport waiting time, time on the plane, and maybe an hour in the afternoon if there are no stock signings.
This is a regional tour, so the flights are going to be three hours max (Seattle to Portland is a little over an hour, Portland to San Francisco is two to three hours, San Francisco to LA maybe two hours, and so on).
So with interruptions and time without the ability to use the computer on board, a writer can get a maximum of two hours writing time in the airport phase. Maybe, just maybe, an hour during the day on one or two of those days.
But let’s go with the two hours. Two hours times seven days of touring equals fourteen hours of writing time during the entire one week book tour.
Provided that the introverted writer has enough of a brain after pretending to be extroverted for more than eight hours per day. Big if. And if the writer can write on planes, which some writers can’t.
Week-Long Book Tour Writing Time: 14 Hours
Writing at a convention depends on whether or not you’re manning a booth or just performing and doing panels at a convention. I’ve done both and much more.
I was at a mainstream writer’s conference two weeks ago, and had plenty of writing time, at least four hours per day, even with socializing more than I planned.
Dean and I wrote an entire Star Trek novel at a Norwescon, but we only left the room for panels we were on, meals, and the occasional meeting. Personally, I had a lot of fun at that convention, but I prefer writing to socializing any day of the week.
I think we each spent eight hours per day writing over that four-day period of time.
But running a booth like my Facebook writer-friend? I never had time to write when I was running the F&SF booth at Worldcon. And that’s not really fair, because I wasn’t running the booth. Generally, writer Christina F. York did that for me. (She writes mystery under two different names, Christy Fifield and Christy Evans.) I organized the booth, got writers to sign, ordered the t-shirts, helped carry the boxes, designed the set-up, did a large percentage of the set-up (with the help of Chris and Dean), and checked in continually. Then I was off to meetings, panels, panels, meetings, meals, drinks, meetings, panels, panels, meetings—all of which I punctuated with four hours of sleep per night, whether I needed it or not. Five days of this.
No writing time.
Writers do work booths as well, not just editors and publishers. I know writers who’ve had to man a section of their publisher’s booth at Book Expo, writers who’ve spent entire days at the booth at Comic-Con, and so on.
Generally speaking, unless the writer decides to miss most of the convention, the writer will have zero writing time at a working convention.
I do know my buddy Kevin J. Anderson writes like a fiend at conventions even while running a booth, because Kev’s just that kinda guy, so I’m going to combine these two kinds of convention-going experiences and say that a dedicated writer might get two hours of writing time per day at a convention.
Five days (including set-up and tear-down) times two hours equals ten hours of writing time.
Convention Writing Time: 10 Hours
I can stack the deck here too, because I know writers who’ve done their own mini-tours on their own dime, going from signing to signing. Again, this also happened before the digital age. One writer I know spent her entire $20,000 advance for her first novel on her own mini-tour, back in the days when genre writers got $20,000 for first novels that weren’t guaranteed bestsellers. That mini-tour drove her publisher nuts, made her editor fear that the next book would tank because the writer wouldn’t do the same promotion again (editor turned out to be right), and made those of us who knew how publishing worked worry that our friend wouldn’t be able to sell a book after she published the third novel in her contract. Well, she never even wrote the third novel, which is a damn shame.
But I digress (kinda).
Let’s assume that we’re talking about a bookstore signing requested by one bookstore. And let’s be nice. Let’s have that store be in the writer’s hometown.
But let’s be honest: the hometown is probably not the size of my hometown, which is seven miles long. Everything here is ten minutes from everything else by car.
Figure an hour of travel time to and from the signing, socializing time with bookstore owner/other writers, two hours for the signing.
If the signing takes four to six hours out of the writer’s day, the writer will still have, at minimum (you guessed it!) two hours of writing time.
Book Signing Writing Time: 2 Hours
In other words, a dedicated writer can find time to get words on the page no matter where he is. And those numbers are pretty good. There are people with day jobs who would kill for two hours of writing time per day.
Let’s compare that with social media/website design/blogging/podcasting—all of that stuff we have to do in the digital era to maintain our profile with readers.
And here’s where my little epiphany came in:
Yes, I have to rebuild my website(s). Yes, I still blog. Yes, I’m on Twitter every day. Yes, I post on Facebook and Google-Plus. Yes, I know I should learn Instagram and a few other sites. Yes, I plan to podcast starting this summer. Yes, I have other projects up my sleeve.
I get to choose how much time I spend on all those things. And if I put them last in my day, guess what? I can give them those broken crumbs of hours that writers on book tours give their writing.
Okay, but let’s be fair. A book tour is a finite thing. Once it’s over, it’s over.
Social media, websites, blogging, not finite. If you do them well, you’re there every day or every week, staying active, making friends and influencing people, ooops, I mean sending cat videos, double whoops, I mean forwarding cat videos, I mean—well, you know what I mean.
In May, I went to a convention (the old-fashioned method), and managed to get two hours per day of writing time (because I like socializing and answering email). I kept up my social media while I was gone, finished my blog, and worked on two different editing projects.
In May itself, I wrote one novel, one major (historical) novelette, four blog posts, and a whole bunch of smaller nonfiction pieces. I also spent the equivalent of two full writing days on social media, newsletters, and other promotion items—a big month, because I had a Storybundle to promote, as well as the release of one novel and one nonfiction book.
So through all of that, I spent 20 hours of promotion time, not counting the daily Twitter/Facebook check which I would have done even if I was not a writer.
Less than one hour per day of promotion time in this digital age. That’s all I spent. Less than one hour per day.
I can still go on book tour if I want to. (I don’t want to. Don’t ask. I’ll say no.)
I still do go to conventions. (I’ve changed my mind about Worldcon. I’ll see you there.)
I occasionally do book signings, maybe three per year. (I just agreed to one this afternoon.)
But all in all?
Even though the digital age and this new world of publishing asks me to promote every day, and even though there is more work that I can do in promotion than I have time for, I control how much time I spend.
Let me repeat that: I control how much time I spend.
That’s the difference between Digital Age promotion and Old-Fashioned promotion. In Old-Fashioned promotion—book tours, conventions, book signings, once you’ve agreed to do the event, you have to cobble together writing time from your free time.
In Digital Age promotion—social media, blogs, websites—you can put your writing time first, and cobble together the promotion from your free time.
Most writers let their social media/Digital Age promotion take over their writing time. Do what I do: Set times for the promotion. I schedule newsletter writing like I schedule a column. I plan social media promotions as I set up for my week, generally on Sunday nights, so I don’t have to think about those promotions during the week. Yeah, I have to write the posts (although some programs let you schedule posts or tweets as well), but that’s not a burden if I already know what I’m going to write.
Which do I prefer? Digital Age promotion by a country mile. Seriously. I can do it if I want to. I don’t have to do it if I don’t want to. I can be social or I can be an introvert.
And I can do it from the quiet of my own home.
Yes, I go to conventions and honestly, they can be a lot of fun. Book tours are never fun. Sorry. They’re not glamorous either. I hope to God I’ve done my last book tour.
And I only do book signings in a group setting now, so I can see other writers, and buy some great signed books as well.
The Bottom Line
If I’m whining that my promotional efforts in the Digital Age are taking too much time from my writing, the lost time is my own damn fault. Even in June, when I’m rebuilding this website (again. Sigh), I shouldn’t lose writing time unless I plan very badly. All of this promotion stuff should happen after the day’s writing is completed.
If I choose to do the promotion stuff at all.
I do choose to do some of it. Turns out I’m good at it. (Okay, I’ve always been good at it. I know that.) Turns out I have fun with it too. (That was a surprise.) I like being innovative, and I like being social. On my own terms. In the quiet of my own house. With a cat watching me—and maybe making a video for his own website, the one he maintains when I’m not at home.
I mean, those cat videos have to come from somewhere, right?
This is one of those super busy weeks and I thought maybe I wouldn’t blog. But I’m on a streak again. This is week 28 since I started the blog back up, and I do have a lot to say. I realized this week that I need to revisit some older blog posts (five-year-old posts) because the information in them is soooo 2010. That’s in the future for me, while I’m doing all this other stuff.
Thank you all for being there, for sending me kind letters, for following the blog, forwarding it, and commenting. Thanks too to those of you who support it financially. Writing nonfiction does take time away from my fiction, so I appreciate the financial support. Besides, it makes me feel like you value the blog.
So, if you like the blog or found something of interest in the past few weeks, please leave a tip on the way out.
“Business Musings: Whining,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
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