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?

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…

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!)


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.

%d bloggers like this: