Sunday, February 26, 2012

No rest for the wicked(ly awesome)

If this first business proposal works, I'm about to enter into one of the busiest periods since third year university.

If I get this contract (novelizing a script), then it'll be officially the first time I was paid to write a full-length manuscript.  This project has all the earmarks of a scary but good dream come true:  it's a crime story, it's historical, and because the script is already written, the hard part is already done.  If I get it, great!  I get to write something outside my normal era and slightly to the left of my genre (I write fiction, typically); and best of all, it's paid work.

And the coolest part about it was that originally, this prospective client had passed me over and gone for someone else.  On Friday, he'd sent me a message, expressing his displeasure at working with the previous person he'd hired (and later fired).  He'd invited me directly to try my hand at the project - hence, this recent proposal.

This time, I was smarter about the proposal:  I looked over the script, I outlined a series of milestones, including an outline for the novelization, when to expect the first few chapters, when to expect the whole manuscript, when to expect the completed revisions - all that - and for every milestone, a set monetary value.  No money held in escrow by Elance, no commitment to work; but, if the money is there, I live up to my own deadlines and get the project done.

In the proposal, I was very conscious of the fact that he'd fired the last person.  There are two reasons why I could expect writers to be fired:  1) they're very bad at what they do, and 2) they're prima donnas, unwilling to adapt their work to the client's needs. 

My first imperative, therefore, was to assure the client that I was willing to make any necessary changes as he saw fit - especially considering this is based on a true story. 

The second was to set personal expectations:  I'm passionate about what I do, and I stand up for what I believe in; but that's not to say I'm inflexible.  If I'm wrong, I fix it; and since it's his story, he gets final say, even if I don't agree. 

The third was to set more practical expectations:  to advise him I'd be asking lots of questions, that I'd need additional time to check historical facts, and that he'd need to choose certain things himself, things you don't necessarily have to think about when writing a script - point of view, verb tense, amount of detail, word choice, that kind of thing.

The fourth was to set realistic milestones.  That's always been a challenge for me, because I tend to set my own targets way too aggressively, then I get annoyed and discouraged when I don't meet them.  I know I can write quickly.  I know I can do it rather well, too.  But I have a lot of prior commitments to work around, and I want to give myself downtime, in case of the flu, or a broken leg or whatever.

The fifth was to set a realistic, though competitive, monetary rate for each milestone.  The client had laid out a budget, the bottom end being laughable, and the top end being very tempting.  I picked a rate that was about 85% of his proposed budget.  If I'm giving up Facebook and gym time, it had better be worth it; in return, I make sure he's very happy with the end product.  But I also know I'm new, with non-verifiable experience.  I won't press my luck.

And then I went above and beyond, the only way I know how:  I got started.  I sent him off a seven-page sample to show him what I'm capable of, with the full expectation that it's going to change.  I read the first few pages of the script, and I wrote the story based on the impressions made upon the movie-screen in my head.  I had to make a few jumps in logic, not having read the full script yet, and not having met the real-life inspiration for the story.  But we'll see what he makes of it.  Besides, it was a good exercise, taking a break from Mummer and jumping into the head of a different leading male character.

I firmly believe in giving free samples of my work, because promises don't mean anything when it comes to this kind of work, that much I know.  Experience can be exaggerated; a CV could be nothing but a pack of lies; and previous employment contacts can be outsourced to Bali (if not now, soon - I'm sure there's a market for it).  But if someone wants to know if I'm good at what I do, I should do it and let them judge for themselves.

I have no idea if my proposal or sample will intrigue him or not.  In some ways, I'm flying entirely in the dark here.

But you know what:  if I don't get it, that's okay too!  I have a lot of other things on my plate, and lots of other things to write.  Because I'm still working full-time, I don't have to sweat the missed cash-making opportunity.  Best of all, if I don't get it, that's more sleep for me!  (And more walkies for the dog, of course).  In terms of finances, I won't hurt if he turns me down.

This is the best possible place a new business owner could be in.

But there's another challenge I've discovered:  I can't get too enthusiastic about this first project, should I get it.  After all, he fired the last writer.  I still have a day job, I still have other commitments, and I have my own writing to do - to say nothing of the next round of interviews I'm about to launch.  If I overexert myself on this project, I risk falling short on something else.  And, if I rush it, I run the risk of botching the story and dissatisfying the client.

Of course, there's also the question of "do I have the energy to do it all?"  If creativity becomes my day job, how does that affect my non-work writing?  Will my creative energy be completely sapped?  Will my physical energy be drained, if I'm working two jobs at once, and if I'm still writing?

Here's where I get back to "being in the best possible place a new business owner could be in."

First, there's a lot I can do while waiting around for things to happen.  I can't start editing Mummer's the Word until I hear back from Verna; can't start working on any short stories 'til I hear back from an editor; can't work on Lady Butcher until I hear back from someone else.  So, I can do something while I wait.

I spend my down time thinking, planning, plotting.  As soon as I have the time, I'm well prepared to work on the next big thing - which makes me that much more efficient.

For another thing, I have an awesome entrepreneurial mentor in Mady Virgona.  She's been there, done that, and she's a fantastic example of self-employment success.  She knows when a start-up business owner is most at risk of fatigue and collapse.  She's been keeping one eye on me from the get-go, and she's been challenging my sworn fortitude.  She's allowed me to learn from her successes and mistakes - invaluable advice when you're starting out on your own.

Best of all, she's letting me make my own foolish mistakes.  Not that she can always help prevent the mistakes, mind you.  I tend to pounce on opportunity without a second thought, and when I tell her about it later, she'll usually tell me "I might not have done it the same way.  I would have done X, in order to avoid Y." And then I learn for next time.  If you learn from your own mistakes, then I'm learning twice as fast, because Mady can explain to me the hidden consequences of the business choices I make.

Mady, my big hearty thanks.

For another thing, I have friends and family who know me better than I know myself, who can recognize the signs of impending burn-out and know how to talk me back from the metaphorical ledge.  Sometimes I think they worry too much (though, if they saw how much time I spent on Facebook and computer games, I doubt they'd worry as much as they do).

Also, I have a dog.  If she's tired of me sitting at my computer too long, she will squeeze her sixty pound body between my chair and the legs of my desk, and the proceed to hip-check me away from the computer.  Then she'll dog-laugh at me, grinning and fanning the air with the bludgeon that is her tail.  If I ignore her, she'll flumph down on the floor and loose an eerily human groan.  She won't let me work too long at any given time.

What's the worst case scenario at this point?  I'll be unpublished, working a full-time job for a major corporation.  Y'know, kinda like...current state.  Best case scenario:  I get to a point where I'm good enough to be selective about my clientele and still earn enough to sleep comfortably at night, every night, with time left over for leisure.

So there, in a nutshell, is Hypergraphia Writing and Communication Services.  I finally have the impetus to do what I set out to do years ago, and I'm comfortably surrounded by a support system of friends, family and colleagues.

All I need now is the work, and for that first contract, no matter how big or small it might be.

Hypergraphia is officially open for business.

Next week:  more interviews!  And maybe, more news!


  1. You. Have. NO. Idea. How. Excited. I. Am. For. YOU!

    This is freaking awesome. Any body part capable of being crossed has been done so.

    Good luck and keep me posted.

  2. Good luck. This would be great news.

  3. Greetings, Pat! You've been tagged as one of my picks for the Lucky Seven Meme on my blog today. Cheers!