Amanda Hocking – Young, Ambitious and Whining About The Work?

The writing blogosphere is alit this with the news of Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old writer from Minnesota who had written nine ebooks and sold 900,000 copies, was looking for a traditional publisher and signed a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. That’s like winning the lottery. For those of us tolling away in relative obscurity from the bright lights of the publishing world, the message is loud and clear: sell enough copies of self-published books and/or ebooks, the traditional publishing world will soon slobber for the opportunity to throw down big money on the next big thing. However, Hocking’s reason for wanting a traditional publishing deal is somewhat curious.

But here’s what I can say – I’m writer. I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full time corporation. As I said before in my post – Some Things That Need to be Said – I am spending so much time on things that are not writing.

What makes her think that by signing a four-book contract with a traditional publisher she will actually have more time as a writer who actually writes?

Some of the more bothersome tasks of being a DIY writer will go away with a traditional publisher. But, by signing a four-book contract, Hocking is trading in the idiosyncratic demands of running her own writing business for the idiosyncratic whims of a traditional publisher concern about the bottom line.

She will have to write, submit, revise and proofread on the publisher’s schedule. If she gets sent out on a nationwide book tour for several weeks or months, she may find it next to impossible to find time to write on the road. Or, if she does find the time to write, the quality of her writing may suffer. Although she may now be a successful ebook writer in the virtual world, her dead tree books may fail to find a broad enough audience in the real world to justify the large advance being paid out and the publisher could easily cancel the contract after the first book. If that happens, finding her next publisher will be problematic and going back to being a DIY writer even more so.

Stephen King, who spends every day writing, had to hire assistants to handle the administrative side of his publishing empire. Even living out in far-flung Maine doesn’t prevent the publisher, media and Hollywood from making excessive demands on his time that can take him away from writing. Every now and then, he reportedly drops out of sight to focus exclusively on his writing.

I mentioned on #writechat this past Sunday that I missed my early days of submitting short stories by snail mail. I would go to the post office with 20 to 30 envelopes, come home to write new short stories, and the responses to my submissions would start to tickle in six weeks later. The following weekend I would prepare all the rejected short stories for submission again, go back to the post office, and write new short stories for the next six weeks. Every seventh weekend I did nothing but admin tasks. I did that for three years straight.

Then two years ago I started submitting my short stories by email. This came about because literary magazines were starting to move away from snail mail submissions, and I started writing speculative fiction for anthologies that accepted submissions only by email. My office expenses for paper, envelopes and postage dropped by two-thirds.

Unfortunately, now that everything is done by email and I recently started publishing short story ebooks, it seems like I have less and less time to write because of all the admin tasks that need to get done. Even if I did finish revising the 700-page rough draft of my first novel and found a traditional publisher, the admin tasks will still demand more of my time. Being a writer these days is no longer about being a writer who writes.

The Perfect Writing Desk For Five Bucks

I’ve wanted to get a new writing desk for six months. The nearby OfficeMax store had a computer desk that was more like a narrow table for $55 USD. (The other local OfficeMax stores carried the same desk for $80 USD.) As a member of the OfficeMax MaxPerks award program, I get coupons from time to time. The typical coupon is save $15 USD on a $75+ USD purchase. If I didn’t have $55 USD for a new desk, I certainly didn’t have $75 USD for a new desk and whatever else to save $15 USD.

OfficeMax recently sent me a coupon for $50 USD off the purchase price of ANY DESK in stock. The coupon was loosely worded. I went to the store, picked up the desk, and presented the coupon the cashier. Not surprisingly, the coupon didn’t scan. I think the coupon was for the $150+ USD desk sets that covered the showroom floor. The manager came over, read both sides of the coupon, found the word DESK on the box, shrugged his shoulders, and entered the override code. I got a new writing desk for five bucks.

My old desk was a computer desk with a sliding keyboard tray and a bottom panel to store the computer and printer. I got it ten years ago to replace a monster desk that didn’t survive moving to different apartments a few times. Back then I was still working in the video game industry, playing video games at home, and taking computer programming classes at school. For what I was doing then, that desk was perfectly suitable.

When I became serious about being a writer, I got a folding table for my typewriter. (Yes, Virginia, I’m that old.) This worked out just fine. I seldom wrote or edit on the computer desk itself. That work got done behind the steering wheel of my car during my lunch break, at the kitchen table, on the floor or in bed. After I gave my old Mac Mini to my friend for his birthday last year, I no longer needed a computer desk. I did need a new desk that was comfortable enough to write and edit on.

The desk I got for five bucks is five inches wider, five inches less deeper, and an inch lower than my old computer desk. I’m closer to my wall-mounted monitor, have free leg movement underneath with no bottom panel to block my feet, and the height is comfortable for writing and editing by hand or keyboard. The only drawback is the black finish that makes the dust too visible and I have a feather duster nearby to make the dust less visible.

The new table helped wean me away from editing on paper to editing on computer, something that I been trying to do for ages. With most of my short story submissions being sent by email, now was the time to embrace the mythical paperless office.

At five bucks, this new writing desk was a steal. Thanks, OfficeMax!

It’s Back To School Season

If you haven’t noticed yet, it’s back to school season. This is the perfect time for struggling writers to pick up some office supplies on the cheap. OfficeMax sent me a grocery bag with a 20% off discount in the mail. I braved the horde of back-to-school zombies to fill the bag with items that aren’t regularly on sale: a box of 9×12 manila envelopes (50-count), a 9x12x3 cardboard mailer box, Sharpie markers (four pack), and clear packing tape. All the stuff I need to get my snail mail submissions back into circulation after taking the summer off to revise my first novel.

A few weeks ago OfficeMax had composition books on sale for $0.50 USD each (limit 3). Some writers might be terrified of the composition book because a tyrannical teacher in a sophomore English class made them write God awful essays about the symbolic meaning of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I never had that fear since I dropped out of high school and never read Moby Dick while taking English lit courses in college. (Since I wasn’t an English major, I never got around to taking a course in nineteenth-century American literature.) Composition books are useful for developing the big story idea that I can turn into a novella or novel someday.

Before I wrote the rough draft for my first novel about video game testers and a homicidal ghost, I filled three composition books with hundreds of Dilbert cartoon strips that I printed out and pasted in. Each strip reminded me of a particular incident from my six years as a video game tester that I wrote down in a short description. (Since most first novels are autobiographical, I went for the obvious source material.) I’m still glancing through them to find ideas to incorporate into the revision of my novel.

OfficeMax is having the same sale for composition books this week, along with one-subject 70-page spiral notebooks for $0.05 USD each (limit 3). I’ll be going to different stores to pick up as many of these sales as I can to stock up my office supply cabinet.

Updated 28 August 2010 @ 5:00PM: I ended up getting 18 composition books ($0.50 USD each), six spiral notebooks ($0.05 USD each) and six filler paper ($0.01 USD each) for under $10.00 USD. OfficeMax had increased the limit from three to 12. I now have enough handwriting material to write two novels. The 700-page rough draft of my first novel was handwritten, with 2/3 being written behind a steering wheel. One of these days I’ll embrace the paperless office.

Dedicated Office Space

Last summer my studio apartment was invaded by bedbugs, which became a blessing in disguise. With all my stuff packed up for four weeks of bug bombing, I created a dedicated office space for writing. With green paint on two walls and shelving units forming a third wall, I had a separate work area for writing. Since this is Silicon Valley, no surprise that my new office space resembles an 8×8 cube.

This is not the paperless office of the future. Everything that I write starts off as something created in long hand, a series of Post-It Notes, or on the typewriter before being entered into the computer. Although I do some editing on the computer, I do most of my editing on paper. Being able to touch the paper and spill red ink are important to me as a writer. I find it easy to create the rough draft on the typewriter, scanned the page into the computer, and clean up the text on the screen.

At WonderCon 2009 I picked up two full-size posters to hang on the wall. The first one is the “I WANT TO BELIEVE” poster that’s often seen in The X-Files TV series. The other poster is for a 1950’s-style science fiction movie called Alien Trespass that’s coming out this year that was a free give away at the WonderCon table.

When I saw a personal counselor a few years ago about my mother’s death from breast cancer in 2004, I watched all nine seasons of The X-Files DVDs. The weirdness from that show made the weirdness of my dysfunctional life look normal in comparison. I was a fascinating patient to my counselor since our conversations about my emotional state revolved around my knowledge of books, movies and TV. While searching for my lost childhood, I rediscovered my passion to become a writer again.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.