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Friday, August 31, 2007

Care and feeding of your contractor

Much of my web content writing is done on a contract basis, with the number of hours I work per month somewhat variable. The workflow from one of my clients slowed markedly in August, so I'll be billing them for only a couple of hours of work this month.

Imagine my surprise when a check arrived from that client today representing 10 hours of work. I didn't remember billing them for that, so went back and checked my records. No clue. Then I looked closely at the memo line on the check. It said, simply: "Bonus."

Tears came to my eyes. I felt incredibly valued. Will I work my tail off for them in September? Oh yes, you bet!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Slow in August

There's a perceptible slow-down in the blogosphere in late August.

People are off the grid on vacation, at Burning Man, or just out enjoying the last days of summer (and taking advantage of the absence of bosses, collegues and clients to do so).


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mice? Nice!

The Name Inspector nibbles appreciatively at the TrenchMice site and the story of how TrenchMice got its distinctive name.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Red ink: It's not just for editors

On the freelance writing lists I frequent, and at the indie business site, Biznik, there is much talk about pricing your services, billing clients, and collecting from clients who are slow to pay. But no one ever says beep about their own bill-paying habits.

I bring this up because today I met with a new accountant, one who comes highly recommended and who was (like several other accountants I've talked with in the past year or so) noticeably reluctant to take on a new small business client. Now I know why.

We spent more than an hour going over some fairly gnarly tax issues involved in my transition from salaried work to sole-proprietor contracting business. His insights were impressive. At the end of it all, I reached for my checkbook. He looked astonished.

I asked his hourly rate for consultations, and again, he looked surprised. Apparently, accountants put consultations on your tab and add them to the charges for your annual tax filings in the following year. Yet many people who come in for a consultation don't end up using that accountant, and thus the accountant is out the hour of work. I said I thought that was weird, and I wanted to pay up front (even though I have every intention of asking him to do the filing for us next year).

We chatted a bit, and he remarked that his elderly clients from the area like to pay, just as I did, by check at the end of the meeting. The majority of his clients he bills after they pick up their taxes -- but now he is starting to re-think that policy. Looking rather embarrassed, he told me that recently he has been having difficulty with new clients, people who have been moving into the fancy condominiums in our area and opening new businesses locally. Some of them pick up their taxes from him, file them, and then ignore his bills. This year, he had to file in small claims court against two small business clients. (They paid up, immediately, when they received notice of the court filings.)

I'm as astonished and appalled to hear these stories as I would be if I saw someone sneak out of the local fish-and-chips place without paying. What's going on here?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Writing for Hollywood

No, even jet-lagged as I am, I'm not entertaining ideas about becoming a screenwriter. But I do want to blog a bit about one of television's foremost screenwriters, Dorothy Fontana. (You're more likely to recognize her under her gender-neutral professional name, D.C. Fontana.) I heard her speak at the Las Vegas Star Trek convention this past weekend in what was apparently a rare appearance.

Fontana started her career as the production secretary for the original Star Trek series in 1964, and rapidly moved to the position of story editor. She's credited with writing much of the back story for Star Trek's Spock character, and for introducing Deep Space Nine's Jadzia Dax character. She's written for Babylon 5, Dallas, Streets of San Francisco, and Kung Fu, and teaches screenwriting at the American Film Institute.

Fontana is anything but a flashy or dramatic person, and her plain-spoken accounts of scripts rejected, scripts rewritten, and projects gone astray made it very, very clear that for every script of hers that made it to filming a pile of others were ruined or jettisoned.

After watching some of the enormously entertaining Star Trek actors hamming it up onstage at the convention (Walter Koenig, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Kate Mulgrew, and Wil Wheaton), it was sobering to realize that their memorable roles began with writers scribbling away under the distinctly unglamorous circumstances Fontana describes.

Interestingly, several of the actors talked about their own writing experiences. Koenig said that, despairing of finding work after the initial Star Trek ended, he wrote a novel; Mulgrew, currently on Broadway in Iphigenia 2.0, is writing her memoirs; and Wheaton, an accomplished essayist and performer in the style of Garrison Keillor, was there promoting his latest book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives. (We bought a copy of the limited edition chapbook from Monolith Press; I suspect you'll have to follow Wheaton's blog to find out when the official version becomes available.)

I came away wondering if it ever goes the other way 'round -- with a screenwriter taking up acting...

Monday, August 6, 2007

Ignite Seattle Wednesday

The next Ignite Seattle is Wednesday evening at the Capitol Hill Arts Center (CHAC). There's an amazing lineup of talks, plus a "startup improv game" to get things going at 6.30.

Ignite Seattle is free. You'll come away with dozens of new ideas and (even if you're an introvert) a contact or two. (Unfortunately, I'm headed out of town Wednesday morning and will miss this one. But you go, and tell me all about it!)

Saturday, August 4, 2007


The key element in weaseltalk, a.k.a. marketingspeak, is pretending that your readers or listeners are extremely stupid. Even though you know that most of the readers and listeners are relatively intelligent people who react to weaseltalk by dropping their jaws, grinding their teeth, rolling their eyes, or gagging. When it comes to weaseltalk, there is no feedback loop -- only a massive disconnect several light years across.

Weaseltalk is the bane of a writer's existence. That's because marketing organizations will pay us big money to write weaseltalk but every time one of us writes it a small part of his or her soul shrivels up and dies. Those of us who keep it up too long become a director of PR or communications or something with the oxymoronic phrase "customer relations" in it.

Joe Kissell, author of several acclaimed software books for Peachpit and Take Control, translates Microsoft's press release on the delay -- er, the release -- of Office 2008 from weaseltalk into plain English. Sigh.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Real-world social networking

I've been known to roll my eyes when my husband describes a party as "relentless socializing," but that phrase perfectly described last night's high-energy doubleheader: A blogger confab organized by Chris Pirillo (Lockergnome) and hosted by KOMO, followed by a Biznik get-together at the intriguing McLeod Residence gallery in Belltown. (The evening went into extra innings: A late-night supper of "happy hour" tidbits at Flying Fish with a couple of fellow Bizniks.)

The KOMO event drew many of the usual tech bloggers I've met at the Seattle Weblogger Meetup, Ignite Seattle, and Seattle Mind Camp but there were plenty of new faces as well. I came away with a heap of business cards and URLS -- for postmodern blogs, for mountaineering blogs, for parenting blogs, and more.

I walked from the KOMO building at Seattle Center down to the Biznik event, discovering along the way that Second Avenue in Belltown is just one continous sidewalk party. Outside the Crocodile Cafe I chatted with a blogger friend, Michael Hanscom, who was getting reading to take photos of the Crocodile's dance-off contest ("You don't need talent to dance").

Upstairs at the McLeod Residence Bizniks were networking dizzily -- a reaction, perhaps, to gallery's landing, which features flocked neo-Victorian wallpaper in a style reminiscent of a cheaply remodeled B&B. After a minute or two of that wallpaper, one of the elegant mixed drinks from the bar was a necessity. Thus I found myself seated on a long bench, flanked by an exercise physiologist and an award-winning pastry chef, sipping a Kir, and speaking Italian. (This is clearly how Biznik earns its reputation for "business networking that doesn't suck.")

And, yes, I talked with a Biznik who is interested in having me do some writing for her new website. In English.