Public Speaking; Various Questions

So, I gave a talk last night at the public library in Marion, Ohio — Hometown of former (and dead) president Warren G. Harding — and I had quite a bit of fun, and hope those who were there did too. At the beginning of the talk I gave a rundown of all the sorts of writing I do — novels, non-fiction, newspaper and magazine, blogging — and asked the audience what they wanted me to talk about. Seems that most of them were there to hear me blab about science fiction. And so, that’s what I blabbed about, for about 90 minutes, pretty much non-stop.

It sort of amazes me that I can blather in public for 90 minutes on a subject and keep finding things to say about it. At some point I wonder if people just wonder if I’m ever going to shut up, but then I remember they’re actually there to hear me talk. So I just keep going. I didn’t end up doing a reading — I brought some work with me but I didn’t get to it — and part of me wonders if I should have. But the next thing I knew I was at the 90 minute mark, and I think I was only actually scheduled to speak for an hour. I’m just a wind-up toy, I am.

I think I did a reasonably good job; you’d have to ask the people who were there. I do know that I like doing speaking events. It’s fun to get up and talk and to have a conversation with the audience and what have you. Aside from the actual writing, it’s one of the most fun things about being a writer. Not all writers feel this way, incidentally. But I’m an attention hog. I eat this stuff up. So if you’re looking for a speaker, you know where I am. And I want to thank the Marion Public Library for having me come by. It’s a lovely library with lovely staff, and I had a great time.

On to another subject entirely: In the wake of finishing The Last Colony, I’ve had a couple of questions about it and writing, and I thought I’d go ahead and answer them.

Colin F asks: “Can you give us a hint when we might see TGB released in paperback?”

I’m not going to hint, I’m going to tell you: The Ghost Brigades will be out in mass market paperback in May 2007, pretty much when The Last Colony hardcover hits the shelves. Since Old Man’s War will be out in mass market paperback in January, that means both of the previous books will be out there for people to grab along with TLC. Naturally, this makes me happy.

Those of you who are book nuts may note that while OMW had a trade paperback release, TGB is going directly into mass market; there are reasons for this involving advanced bookselling voodoo that I could tell you about, but then I would have to kill you. I don’t know if there will be a trade paperback version of TGB; right now I don’t think there are any plans for one, however. If this changes I’ll let you know.

Chang asks: “Do you have any sort of ritual for finishing up a novel? Besides crashing into the bed and not moving for a few days?”

Hey, don’t discount collapsing into a pile. It really does seem to be my post-book ritual. I finished TLC in the afternoon after having a nice long night of sleep, and I though well, at least this time I won’t fall into a coma, and then plopped on the bed to watch TV and woke up at, like, 9:30pm. Apparently finishing a book takes something out of me whether I want it to or not.

Other than that, no, I don’t really have a ritual. When I finished The Ghost Brigades I celebrated by buying myself a fancy-shmancy new dSLR camera, and this time around I thought about buying myself something else similarly expensive, but in fact I have not done so (yet). I’m itchin’ to buy a new PC, but I want to wait until the first quad-core PCs hit the market later this year, because I’m just that way. Other than that, there’s nothing expensive I really feel like buying at the moment (well. I would like one of those sweet new Mustangs. But I have no excuse).

I did change the look of the Whatever in tandem with finishing the novel; maybe I’ll make that a ritual from now on (I really like the new look, incidentally. I’m always happy when I do something I like). But then again, maybe I won’t. I don’t know that fetishizing the completion of a book is a smart thing do, at least for me. For one thing, developing a ritual takes work. And you all know how much I am against that.

From e-mail: “I was just wondering what word processor and writing tools you use while writing. Do you have a Windows or Mac PC? Laptop or desktop? Do you use Microsoft Word or some other word processor? If it’s MS Word, does the product handle a 90k+ word document well, or do you have to break it up into seperate files? Are there any special templates, tools, or funky font settings that you mess with, or do you just ignore all of that stuff and worry about it after you’re finished and passing the manuscript on to your publisher?”

Well, it’s interesting. I wrote The Last Colony on three separate machines using two separate word processors, and in the end I’ve come to the conclusion that whether I like it or not, I write better using Microsoft Word than any other word processing program. Part of the reason for this is familiarity: I know Word’s quirks better than any other processor, and I know its format better as well. But part of it is that even if you save a document as a common format (I tend to use .rtf), different programs will open and format it differently. Eventually for the sake of sanity I had to choose just one program to use, and that ended up being Word.

Also, and sorry to say this, but all other word processors for the Mac just plain suck. I wrote The Ghost Brigades and part of TLC on the Mac using TextEdit, which was adequate but not optimal. Pages — the Apple word processor — is just plain useless; I ended up taking it out of my dock completely. In both cases you have to be careful about changing fonts globally because when you do both the programs wipe out various formatting, which is ridiculous and stupid (yes, it’s possible this is just me not know how not to do this, but come on, people: If the default for changing a font wipes out formatting, it’s clear the program was not designed to be used on a regular basis).

I ended up having to have two sets of documents for TLC: the ones I edited on the Mac and the ones that I edited on my laptop. Eventually I decided this was stupid downloaded the 30-day trial version of Word for the Mac, and then used that to collate all the files into a single document that I could then use whatever computer I was using. The trial version of Word:Mac is going to expire in a couple of days; I’m going to go ahead and buy the damn thing so I don’t have to do this sort of ridiculous byzantine multi-format nonsense again (to answer the specific question: Yes, Word handles very large documents just fine. I sent my novel to my editor as a single file).

On the formatting side, when I write, I tend to write using one of two fonts: Optima or Times New Roman, in both cases because I like the look of the font and they’re easy for me to read. I tend to use either 10-point type blown up to 125% view or 12-point type at 100% view — if it’s any larger it annoys me. As I’m writing I tend to use what has become the “Web Standard” formatting: no indent, single spacing, double space between paragraphs. The fact is I do the majority of my writing online, at least in terms of volume, and so this has become my default way of writing. Before I send the final document to my editor, however, I reformat it into standard manuscript formatting, because I want to make him happy, and reformatting is not difficult to do (in Word, anyway).

Other than the formatting I note above, which requires no special tools of any sort, I don’t use any templates or fancy formatting or whatever. I just type. Fiddling with formats and templates in my opinion is mostly procrastination, ar at least it’s procrastination for me. So I don’t bother. I just type.

38 Comments on “Public Speaking; Various Questions”

  1. Interesting. I really can’t stand Word. I used Word 4 in college, and that was managable, but the modern Mac versions I just find unusable.

    My workflow is probably pretty strange, because it reflects what I do. I’m only an ametuer writer, and do software engineering. I used to do production in print magazines. So I write everything in BBEdit or vi, depending on whether I’m in terminal land or not, and if I’m printing it or handing it off, I’ll format it in QuarkXPress. BBEdit handles huge files just fine, and I don’t need formatting when I’m writing. Because I also write a ton of code, I know the editor like the back of my hand, and it is orders of magnitude more powerful for anything I need for writing fiction (for which I really only need solid editing, spell check, search and replace, and word count).

    Quark exports to Word just fine, so when people demand that, it isn’t a problem.

    I wouldn’t recommend this workflow to others; I just thought I’d describe it.

  2. John Scalzi said… (well. I would like one of those sweet new Mustangs. But I have no excuse).

    If you need an excuse for a new Mustang… you will never own one. Go… go now… buy one… you will buy a new Mustang!


  3. John,

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Gary on this one – there is never a “practical” reason for owning a V-8 rear-wheel drive muscle car in a climate that includes snow. The only reason that makes any sense at all is: “I want one, ’cause they’re purty.”

    Besides, don’t you and Krissy already own a mini-van? I would think a Mustang would be required to bring the level of testosterone in your driveway to an acceptable level…

  4. It sort of amazes me that I can blather in public for 90 minutes on a subject…
    Considering you took your subject from the audience, i.e, came without a prepared talk, it was very impressive. I enjoy watching people extemporize on subjects they love and know cold. Add in some vocal modulation and movement away from the lecturn and you got you a highly entertaining event there.
    As for Mac word processing: for those who don’t know, TextEdit compares to Windows Notepad and looks like MacWrite circa 1986. Yes, probably not your best choice for novel crafting. Pages was mis-marketed as a Word rival when it is, in fact, a nice Publisher challenger. Though I haven’t used them, I hear good things about Nisus Writer and Mariner Write, both actual full-fledged word processors with demos available. I’ve also seen an interesting app called CopyWrite that works like a self-contained file drawer that holds note documents, actual copy documents, etc. all in one place. It has a funky saving scheme, though, that I’m not too fond of.
    And before you buy Word for Mac, see if you can get the Student Edition (oh, hi Athena). It’s like half the regular price, has the identical feature set, and comes with three licenses, so you’re karmic-ally good to put it on that many Macs, should you have them.
    Car: find a Studebaker Champion. ooohhhhhh.

  5. Also, and sorry to say this, but all other word processors for the Mac just plain suck. I wrote The Ghost Brigades and part of TLC on the Mac using TextEdit, which was adequate but not optimal.

    What was inadequate about it, if I may ask? Have you looked at TextMate at all? It’s very shiny and does all kinds of really awesome things.

    I mostly code in it, so I don’t know if it would be useful for you, though.

  6. How much formatting is an author of fiction expected to do? Justine Larbalestier says that to be “compatible with the publishing industry” you have to use Word (, which suggests at least a certain amount of formatting responsibility. On the other hand, Cory Doctorow has written all of his novels/stories using a plain text editor ( Does the situation vary from publisher to publisher? Do I read too much in to Word being the de facto industry standard? (Word is quite capable of opening text files.)

  7. I know what you mean about being surprised you can blather on for 90 minutes. I led a seminar of that length for newspaper editors last winter and was worried beforehand about having enough to say; I ended up not getting to the last thing I’d wanted to talk about.

    I use Word on a PC at work (and the rare times I write at home), set to 14-point Times New Roman (100%), single-spaced, with 0.5″ indents and no extra spacing between paragraphs. But I also do a lot of editing directly in my newspaper’s publishing system, Hermes, which toggles between some random but fairly readable sans-serif font and a WYSIWYG mode that renders what you see in the paper. Hermes functions a lot like Word, but not quite enough. The most annoying thing to me is that ctrl-del removes a word in Word but a whole line in Hermes. I still slip up on that every now and then. Wish they could just ape Word completely.

  8. I don’t know whether it’s true for current versions of Word, but the one I have on my Mac makes it nearly impossible to tell where the spaces are (if anyone knows why, I’d be love to know–have Googled the question and gotten nowhere).

    I recently d/l’ed NeoOffice, which is an open source MS Office-like (only simpler) package for the Mac. Haven’t tried reformatting, but so far, for writing, I like it fine. (Yes, I was misguided enough to try to d/l it in IE, which does NOT seem to work well on a Mac.)

    You probably know this, but in case you don’t….Merlin Mann at the GTD-based (David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”) productivity site is a serious Mac type, tries stuff out and posts about it all the time. That’s almost certainly where I heard about NeoOffice. I’ve fiddled with lots and lots of word processors he’s mentioned, and other things. I may even start using my Mac more than my PC one of these days. (Laptop vs. desktop question, really.)

  9. Fishbane,
    You WRITE in vi?! I can’t think of any greater hell or torture. I’d think the 1985 version of wordstar or PFS:write would be solid step up.

  10. Janiece,

    ” there is never a “practical” reason for owning a V-8 rear-wheel drive muscle car in a climate that includes snow.”

    One word, “donuts.” Front-wheel drive cars suck at them.

    I would make the argument that in this gas price climate there no “practical reason.”

  11. I’ve written stories in vi and emacs — and notepad and SideKick and WordStar and Word for Dos, MacWord, etc. I write all my fiction in Word 95. Still. Runs fine on Win95/98/98SE/98ME/2000/XP. (grin)

    When you are sitting in a lab waiting for the mainframe to finish crunching a 24-hour calculation, you use what’s handy.

    Oh, and I’ve got chunks of two novels written on PDAs… HP-200LX and HP-680. Used to do some writing on a TRS-80 Model 100 and an NCR Starlet. The latter had WordStar 2.2 in ROM and ran on 4 “C” batteries. Transferred files via the built-in 300 baud modem. Damn, that was NICE… in 1987.

    Dr. Phil

  12. It sort of amazes me that I can blather in public for 90 minutes on a subject and keep finding things to say about it.

    …and that’s one of the reasons I’d love to organise a con with you as GoH.

    Unfortunately, Swedish cons almost never have the money to bring an American author over.

  13. Hey John,

    I liked the old look of the Whatever much better before the change. This one’s harder to read. The exception is the pretty picture at the top. Sorry if you’ve heard this before.

    I’ll be buying your books soon. A friend recommended them. Keep on tranglin’

  14. GUIs just get in the way when I’m writing; give me a plain text editor to write in. Processing words just dosen’t sound wholesome. ;)

  15. Well, I was in the audience listening to you last night at MPL and had a great time. You were a very enjoyable – and knowldgeable – speaker. I love both Sci fi books and movies/tv, which you touched on, and you could have just kept on talking. Thank you very much for coming and wearing cool shoes!

    P.S. – Can we consider Michael Crichton gateway science fiction? How about Orson Scott Card – I mean, he’s very readable?

    Actually, can we just get your list of gateway sci fi authors/books? And a autographed copy of The Rough Guide to Sci Fi movies? See, now I’m just being a greedy sci fi fan.

  16. I don’t know if there will be a trade paperback version of TGB; right now I don’t think there are any plans for one, however. If this changes I’ll let you know.

    Damn. Guess I’ll have to buy the hardback then. Based on some thing Charles Stross has written, I gather that the royalty rates on trade paperback are better than for MMPB. Since I dislike the amount of bookshelf real estate that hardbacks hog but want to support authors whose work I enjoy, I figured that buying trade paperbacks was a good compromise.

  17. Nick:

    “Based on some thing Charles Stross has written, I gather that the royalty rates on trade paperback are better than for MMPB.”

    Depends. My royalty rate on MMPB is higher than my rate on trade PB, but trade PB sell for more, so in the end for me it’s a wash.

  18. Janiece,

    Well, yes, but usually for me it was more

    WEEEEEEEEeeee! DONUTS! WooHoo!


    As a side note, some increadably (stupid/gulible) nice parents bought a local boy said mustang. He had great fun over the summer. Sign of getting older, peeling out is no longer fun but brings the thought, “well, there’s 1000 miles more wear.” It’s totaled now. He decided to play chicken with another student. Both were too dumb to swerve. Of course, the other kid’s car was one of those $800 specials, so I guess we know who was the dumber of the two.

  19. Steve Buchheit:

    “Of course, the other kid’s car was one of those $800 specials, so I guess we know who was the dumber of the two.”

    A good general rule of thumb is that the cheaper car always has the right of way.

  20. Well, he was in a Mustang. Perhaps he tried to swerve but the SOLID REAR AXLE kept him from doing so.

    American Muscle. Real fast in a straight line, boned in the twisties.

  21. I agree that TextEdit is incompatible with large-scale writing needs. NeoOffice, which is allegedly a Word alternative, is quite dreadful – top-heavy and slow. I use it to open Word documents with fancy formatting options that TextEdit can’t handle, but that’s it.

    A very fine word processor for the Mac is Mellel. It incorporates the Mac’s superior support for foreign alphabets (which probably isn’t a factor for John) but also has all the necessary features of a word processor.

  22. Scalzi:

    “A good general rule of thumb is that the cheaper car always has the right of way.”

    That reminds me of the 1980 Chevy Citation that a friend of mine drove in high school. During our Junior year (1998) we painted slogans and a large peace sign on it, and later glued some faux-astroturf to the hood and roof. The car’s base color was maroon, the paint we added was Lawn Party Green. ‘Twas a blinding combination.

    For some reason he was often noticed by the police and given extra berth by the other drivers in our very conservative town.

  23. While I can understand the urge to hear a Munstang GT’s V8 rumble, I simply can’t fathom why anyone would actually want one. Especially when you’re small enough and limber enough to drive a real sports car – a Lotus Elise.

    Oh, wait. I forgot.
    Boring flatness. Shit, you might as well buy yourself a rail locomotive.

  24. Steve,

    “As a side note, some increadably (stupid/gulible) nice parents bought a local boy said mustang.”

    Welcome to the land of astronomical insurance rates. No teens in my house will ever drive anything more powerful than a V4 FWD/AWD. The V6/V8 vehicles are reserved for those who pay the bills, and can appreciate the very cool “blub, blub, blub” idling noise at stop lights. Who says you outgrow the desire to look cool?

    As my friend used to say about his teen daughter’s desire to call the shots, “You can’t beg and boss at the same time.”

  25. My first car handed down to me from my father was a ’73 Plymouth Valiant. When he bought it for himself, automotive savant that he was, he told them to just put in the biggest engine that would fit.

    Heavier than a sherman tank. Faaaaaast. Good thing I was in Florida where all the roads are flat and straight.

  26. Nathan, straight roads help with that. Although I’m a mototrcycle man myself, I like curves and slight hills. Now I just need to get a new bike (the old one needs too much work for me to do, and more than I want to put into it).

    Janiece, yeah, I keep wondering how he explained to the insurance adjuster why he was going over 55mph in the school parking lot and head-on into another car to boot.

    I drive too many miles a day to worry about vroom vroom. I bought my last car because it sips the gas (over 37mpg). It still goes zoom, just not as fast off the line.

  27. I agree that TextEdit sucks. However, Appleworks was just super but Apple doesn’t support it anymore. I believe there is a freeware version floating around the net. iWorks is apparently the successor product to Appleworks, but it doesn’t come with the new MacBooks, you have to shell out $80. i’m cheap, so I’m using TextEdit and bitching about how inadequate it is.

  28. Hey, don’t discount collapsing into a pile.

    Never have never will. I am the collapsing into a pile poster child. I do it as often as possible.

    Like now.

  29. I prefer using MS Word over everything else. I had Word Perfect for a while but then that machine died. Page Works should have been called suck works. I wouldn’t trust TextEdit to anything larger than a grocery list.

    Word is just the devil you know. Not The Devil or this devil. Just the devil you know as opposed to… you know?

  30. Scalzi says: well. I would like one of those sweet new Mustangs. But I have no excuse

    Ahh, John, you’re not phrasing the question correctly. Never ask yourself “Do I need this…” Rather ask yourself “Do I DESERVE this…” I find that this tends to resolve the internal debate in my favor more often than not.

  31. Really like color in sidebar. Why not some color or different font or bullet points, something to space out your very interesting content.

    I try to do that on my blogs.

    Really good advice on speaking. I hope you and your readers will look at my blog for a different approach to advice on speaking.

    I’ve got colorful (literally) ideas on speaking including books to help, articles and quotes, plus a bold colorful large-font format to keep your attention and great photos.