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Tips from Topaz Cove Creations

September 2003


We launch September with a holiday, both in the U.S. and in many other countries. It is the end of the summer season in the northern hemisphere, the beginning of spring under the Southern Cross. There are holidays and holy days for many people. In our life, it is not a particularly auspicious month for marriages. Three couples close to us, married on September 8 or 9 some years ago, are each divorced. The stresses of life take their toll at any hour, of course, but some times are personally more disappointing than others for all of us, especially when poor judgment is involved. Yet September also carries with it hope for respite from this year's relentless scorching heat in our corner of the planet, more uncomfortable for everyone than in recent memory. Global warming is taking its toll on the world and we need to pay attention to the damage we're causing, on a government level as well as individually. Our planet is too precious to continue our disruption of the ecological balance, the destruction of rainforests and so many irreplaceable species of animal life, or each other.

Be sure to check out our Conference Report
from the Western Authors Book Look & Shindig,
held in Prescott, Arizona - August 16, 2003!


Monthly Tips:

Technical writing

Writing in general

Monthly lifestyle tip
Conference News

Technical Writing Tip of the Month

Update on PDF Files Not Displaying in IE 6.0

There's not as much to report as I would have expected. Thanks to tips from Eric Abbiss and Dennis Wilson, some new steps were taken that involved uninstalling everything related to Adobe Acrobat and starting over. That resolved the problem of PDF files not displaying in IE 6.0. It also appears that IE 6.0 isn't supposed to support Acrobat 5 and vice versa, but it worked anyway! 

However...after we installed a new motherboard, all hell broke loose again and we were back to square one. After uninstalling Acrobat 5 and going clear back to Acrobat 3, then upgrading, I now have my IE 6.0 ability to display PDF files back...for the time being. Now I frequently lose the mouse pointer online whether in the IE 6 or Netscape 7.1 browser! All things considered, getting one manufacturer's software to work/co-exist amicably with another manufacturer's software is still pretty much a crapshoot. And for those of you who wouldn't dream of setting foot in a casino if you live to be 150, a crapshoot is loosely derived from a throw of the dice, not from vulgarity.

Tech Writers and Employment Agencies

As frustrating as dealing with independent recruiters usually is for technical writers, dealing with plain old employment agencies can be the exercise in futility. Since there's no way a tech writer can dumb down a resume and pretend they've been working as a file clerk or a receptionist, employment agencies don't know what to do with you, assuming you haven't also had a checkered career as a goatherd, mortuary technician, hookah smoker, and jelly bean stuffer. Those people they can place.

I've actually made appointments with employment agencies, telling them upfront what my job description is, only to have them turn me away without an interview when I arrive. "We have nothing suitable for you."  Thanks for wasting my time, guys.

Even when you take agency pre-employment tests, it doesn't always help them place you. Invariably, the tests for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, for example, either test on modules that tech writers rarely get into, or are set up so that you're penalized for using menus instead of hunting for buttons on toolbars or using shortcuts, which are expressly forbidden in the test anyway. And speed seems to be of the essence in employment agency testing. 

One of the facts of life that employment agencies can't grasp is that all experienced tech writers can type fast when they're on a roll, with 65 wpm being standard. But most tech writers spend much of their time on research, interviews with SMEs, adapting hopelessly outdated material, chasing down major and minor discrepancies in the documentation, rewriting manuals to create online Help, designing HTML newsletters, and a hundred other tasks that have little or nothing to do with the clerical or secretarial work on which tests are based. All of a tech writer's work is pursued while dealing with a hundred interruptions and schedule changes. There are many fields that employ technical writers, but as someone has observed, documenting software is like changing tires on a moving car. 

Accuracy for the tech writer is at least as important as speed. We are not word processors. And if you sneak a look at the employment test results before they snatch them out of your hand, you'll often find yourself rated as "low productivity" even when you score as an Advanced or Intermediate user on the Office software. They don't test for the Adobe suite, which is just as well. Since tech writers have to be able to navigate between a dozen or more tools, often at the drop of a hat, much of what they learn is OJT, supplemented by professional seminars at every opportunity.

Employment agencies who specialize in technical occupations do exist, though they've had few listings since September 11, 2001. That tragedy was the final blow for a high tech industry already in the throes of meltdown. Most employees of such agencies are out looking for real jobs themselves.

As far as outside recruiters are concerned, they serve a purpose in the world, but many of you are already only too familiar with the games they usually play. Recruiters rewrite your resume in order to present you in the most commercial light, yet make it look as though you have skills you haven't acquired. Since you don't know what they've sent to the employer, you run the risk of being made to look like a fool or a liar during the interview with the hiring manager. I found this out the hard way when a hiring manager showed me "my" resume that she had received from the recruiting firm. To say I was furious at what I read would not come close to describing my feelings that day. I no longer allow recruiters to rewrite my resume unless they show it to me before they send it out.  No exceptions. 

If you're an executive who thrives on competition and winning at all costs, you can roll the dice with non-company recruiters. Those writers who prefer to live life on your own terms will tend to steer clear. Deal with employment agencies instead, when you must, but realize you're dealing with people who probably don't know what to do with you. And keep an ear open while you're in their offices. If you hear agency employees badmouthing previous applicants, don't look back when you leave! It is not an auspicious sign when they are ripping apart other applicants behind their backs. Instead, use your network to find suitable employment.

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DISCOVERIES   A Journey Through Life 

Available from and at, and through your bricks 'n mortar bookstores!


Writing Tip of the Month

Authors Make a Lot of Money, Don't They? You Should Have It Made in the Shade! 

Mmmm, sorry to disappoint all those legions of book readers out there, not to mention other writers. But the norm for authors is that they earn far less than minimum wage from their royalties. The handful of celebrity authors, those who are indeed phenomenally successful, can be counted on your fingers, while your toes can accommodate the next echelon.

However, many thousands of authors do make a decent living, if they are invited and are inclined to speak or teach about their books or writing in general. Short of that, authors need a supportive spouse whose career can pay the most important bills, or they work a full-time job themselves. The latter cuts heavily into writing-related activities, as you might expect.

So what happens to that money you shell out for your latest literary find? When you pay $7.95 for a mass market paperback at the drug store or at Barnes & Noble or Borders, they've probably ordered it through Ingram Book Wholesaler, or Baker & Taylor Books, or similar quantity supplier. These sources usually demand a 55% discount from the publisher. That leaves a wholesale price of $3.58, upon which an author's 10% royalty is then paid—if they're lucky. The range can be 8% to 12%, topping out at 15% for top dogs. If you purchased a trade paperback at $14.95 or a hardback at $23.95, the same formula applies. Royalties are 67 cents or $1.08, respectively. 

Publishers then have to wait 90 days to be paid by the book wholesaler, in case a customer returns a book for refund. Authors wait even longer for their payments. Royalties can be ephemeral, after the publisher deducts its expenses. Unsold books are usually returned to the publisher with their covers ripped off, so that the author cannot even purchase copies themselves to keep the book "in print" and available to readers. And authors do not receive royalties on books that are sold at deep discounts on the "Sale" tables of bookstores. Further, it is common practice for publishers to remove "unsuccessful" books from the shelves after 3 to 6 months, even if the author is well-known. Most have little patience with books that sell steadily but slowly, outside of the classics.

Why don't the chains order directly from the publishers? Because they don't want to write 1,500 checks each month or deal with other paperwork. It is better for the author if you purchase from independent bookstores, who tend to order through Baker & Taylor (the library supplier) or directly from the publisher or the publisher's distributor. Their discounts are lower, about 40%. You, the customer, will also receive far more personal service from an independent bookstore! But of course, the choice is yours. and other online booksellers demand the 55% discount. In addition, their policy of allowing used and near-new books to be advertised on the same page as the new book (by individuals, charities and used book dealers) is death to author income from new book sales and results in no royalty payment whatever for used book sales. Eventually, this policy will have to change, but it will be a long time coming.

So, prospective authors, stay in the real world, and understand what you're getting yourself into.  Readers, buy from an independent bookseller whenever possible, or contact the publisher. Or search for the author's public (not private) contact information, if all else fails. Just be aware that authors have to buy the copies of their own books that they send to reviewers and others, and may not be allowed by contract to actually sell the books they purchase. (I can!) They don't get free copies once the handful destined for Mom, Grandpa, and Rover are distributed. Writers write because they have to, but you'll be helping to pay for the antacids!

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What Shall I Write? Personal Letters for All Occasions

Available through and Amazon

As with Discoveries above, please visit and post your own review of What Shall I Write? Personal Letters for All Occasions.

1. Again, it's quite easy. 

2. You don't have to use your full name.  

3. It will really help! 

Thank you very much.

Lifestyle Tip of the Month

Thoughts on Dealing with Jury Duty

I can only speak of California when referencing contemporary jury duty, though I've been called to serve in another state in the past, with equally irritating circumstances to deal with. Until the US Court system treats jurors with the respect they deserve, a jury of one's peers will never meet its intended ideal. By that standard, anyway, a drug dealer would merit being tried by a jury of other druggies! Frankly, I think the existing jury system itself would be a major deterrent to crime! Who would want to be tried by a jury of individuals, most of whom didn't want to be there in the first place because their employers don't pay them during their attendance to civic duty, whose families are suffering in their absence, and who can't wait to escape the dancing attorney acts? We would be far better served by professional jurors who understand the law and who have also received formal training in compassion from the school of hard knocks. Or at least a mixed jury of professionals and greenies.

Added to California's other mind-boggling woes that have been taking center stage of late is a chronic shortage of qualified jurors, particularly in Los Angeles County. No doubt that's aggravated by a higher crime rate in our overcrowded population, which in itself creates an even more clogged docket. Though the state has completed the phase-in of One Day-One Trial, the general public still doesn't seem to understand that if they are selected to serve on a jury, One Trial supersedes One Day. A prospective juror is on call for the entire week stipulated in the Jury Summons, reports on the day they are ordered to report, and serves for the length of the assigned trial, unless formally dismissed by the presiding judge on the day they are called, or possibly later in an emergency.

There is no state payment at all for the first day of jury service. If you are assigned to a trial, from the second day onwards, California now pays the grand sum of $15 a day plus one-way mileage from home to the courthouse, assuming you live in the center of the town from which they're measuring. Otherwise, you come up a few miles short. This is the first increase in 45 years. It about covers the cost of gas and your lunch, unless you backpack that in and risk putting it in the refrigerators in the jury assembly room. Some courthouses have no lunch facilities, others provide only limited free parking, if at all. And, you creative folks, leave the knitting and crocheting and embroidery at home. Nothing that could be used as a weapon is allowed inside the building, let alone in the courtroom. In Van Nuys, the TVs in the jury room don't work because the courthouse is being remodeled. No TV antenna and no cable service. Bring your headphones and your own CDs or tapes, or a book that will hold your interest. 

In case you haven't been called to jury duty lately, the system doesn't give a hoot about financial hardship nowadays, not even if you're self-employed or your employer won't pay you to serve, or not even if you were scheduled to report to a paid training course so you can finally get your first job since September 11, 2001. As we were recently instructed, "a five-day trial isn't considered a hardship to anyone". Well, excuse me! And as far as health problems are concerned, if you're under the age of 70 and you're breathing, you can serve. You'll have to hope your doctor's signature will excuse you, but often, it does not. Believe me, no courtroom wants a juror with multiple health problems, but they can and do try their best to make you look like a liar during the Inquiry process.

As to the type of juror that is sought, the preference seems to be for a prospective juror who is not an independent thinker. Of course, it's normal to want a panel that is sympathetic, but a balanced jury is more just, when such can be seated. Defense attorneys in particular like a juror who can be manipulated into believing their spin on events. That goes without saying. Every client wants an attorney who is on their side, else why bother with legal representation? Any fool can represent herself in a courtroom, if she so desires.* Even so, anyone who appears to be an uneducated, quiet little housewife who can be easily swayed is likely to be selected for a jury. Woe to the attorneys who make that mistake, however! Little old ladies in particular can be "dangerously" opinionated. It isn't just good things that come in small packages.

The best advice that can be given is: Yes, do your civic duty if at all possible. Heaven knows we need conscientious, caring jurors. Read your instructions. Maintain decorum. Dress conservatively. Do not show up late, at least not without telephoning first to explain your crisis. Cooperate with the court at all times. NEVER mouth off at or otherwise insult the judge. He or she reigns supreme in that courtroom. Answer questions honestly. Don't let attorneys make you look like an idiot. 


*[There is always the exception, of course. Sometimes, such short notice is deliberately given that the individual has to show up alone because there isn't time to find and consult with an attorney. I'm talking less than 48 hours! And believe me, it happens.]

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To purchase T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs and more fun stuff, related to DISCOVERIES  
A Journey Through Life, and What Shall I Write? Personal Letters for All Occasions, visit


Writer's Conferences

Report from the 
Western Authors Book Look & Shindig
August 16, 2003, Prescott, Arizona

by Trudy W. Schuett

After almost a year's planning, the Western Authors Book Look & Shindig was a great experience for all participating authors. Most of us got to finally meet in person people we've known online (in some cases, for years) and we got to chat and share our stories and learn from each other.

Our Irish and English visitors were impressed by the venue! Mudd Hole Espresso in Prescott, Arizona is not as you'd expect, a little hole in the wall that serves coffee. It's a roomy place, with plenty of comfortable couches and chairs to sit and talk books (and bookselling ;>). They also have online access there, so those of us who were away from home and our desktop computers could keep in touch as needed. One author pointed out that it's the only book event she knew of that didn't restrict authors by genre or means of publication, and so she was glad to be part of it, and get to know other authors from the West.

Some of those living in the Phoenix area were stuck in a surprise gas (petrol) crisis, which kept them home, so our public attendance was not quite what we'd hoped. We did have the support of local media, such as KNOT radio and the Prescott Daily Courier, so this was encouraging. We're already planning another WABL&S for Yuma, Arizona in January, 2004, and one again next year in Prescott!! Now we've got one event under our belts, the next ones should be bigger and better. Check online at for details on upcoming events to promote indie* publishing!

*Editor's note: For those of our readers who may not yet be published writers, the author here is referring to independent publishers, as opposed to the giant publishing houses of (largely) the East Coast in the U.S., and elsewhere.


Plan now for the Twelfth Annual WritersUA (WinWriters) Conference
to be held in Hollywood, California 
March 28-31, 2004
at the newly renovated Renaissance Hollywood Hotel.



© 2003 Shirley Ann Parker. All rights reserved.

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