single frame: My secret life as an author

Excel and PowerPoint

My secret life as an author
Nikon N8008, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor
Kodak Tri-X 400

I used to edit and, sometimes, write books about popular software applications.

I started doing this in 1994. It was the job that brought me to Indianapolis from Terre Haute, at a time when the “For Dummies” franchise was red hot. That job turned out to be a sweatshop grind, and I left it after just eighteen months. Shortly I made connections with a competing publisher and edited on the side for several more years.

The two pictured books have my work in them. The PowerPoint book was originally written by the two other authors listed on the spine. But PowerPoint marches on, and new features are added. The publisher paid me nicely to update the entire book for what was then PowerPoint’s latest version. You don’t see my name on the Excel book’s spine because I was a ghost author, contributing to about half of the chapters.

My favorite work was technical editing, which made sure the books were accurate. Nobody wants to spend $30 on an instructional book only to have it steer them wrong! The publisher paid me by the page, and I was fast, so my effective hourly rate was high.

I gave up the work near the end of my first marriage, as I wanted my nights and weekends back. My first wife and I paid down a lot of debt from editing money. I wouldn’t mind picking up a little side editing now, for the same reason.

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12 responses to “single frame: My secret life as an author”

  1. Dan James Avatar

    Wow, writing books on using Microsoft apps (and the time required learning the apps inside out to gain the knowledge) would be some people’s idea of torture. You have some stamina Mr Grey!

    Did you write any for Word? Do you know why still after dozens of updates and rewrites it still randomly converts lines of my documents to Times New Roman, even when I’ve done Select All and changed the font to something else?? Such frustrating software to use… : (

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s the thing – I often didn’t have to learn the software, I already knew it. I was very good with the Microsoft Office products. Unfortunately, I never wrote or edited Word books. I was very, very good with Word back in the day!

      1. Dan James Avatar

        Didn’t Word drive you crazy though with predicting what it thinks you want to do with tables and bullet points and so on? And that stupid Times New Roman bug that’s still not been fixed since, what, 1989 or something? The software still irritates me daily, as you might be able to tell!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I learned to master all of that. Seriously–I was very, very good with Word. I used it to publish 3,216 pages of documentation for a software package once. I created templates from scratch, told the rest of the writers I’d bust their kneecaps if they changed the templates, and everything worked as smooth as glass. The key to good Word experiences is setting up your templates right.

          1. Dan James Avatar

            That’s where I’ve been going wrong for three decades, I’ve never used a Word template in my life…

            1. Jim Grey Avatar

              Read up on “styles” in Word. When you change the font of the text’s base style it will stick.

  2. mellonicoley Avatar

    Interesting to learn about another aspect of your life, Jim :) so I can come to you with my Excel queries now?!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sure there’s an Excel expert far closer to your home than I! :-)

  3. DougD Avatar

    Awesome, that’s pretty gratifying to have your name on something, no matter how modest. My wife has her name on some leukemia research papers, me I have my name on some little stickers I put on inaccessable places when I put my VW bug back together…

    It’s amazing how you only need incrementally more knowledge to be the office expert on something. I am a local semi-expert on Excel and MS Project, but I’m not that good at all :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The tech book publishers all (used to? not sure if they still do) give credit to the entire editorial team in each book’s front matter. It was exciting to go into a bookstore, pull a book I’d edited off the shelf, and see my name.

  4. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Many years ago, I created a series of radio commercials for a local Subaru dealer group. Another dealer group in another city wanted to use them and contacted me. With a bit of simple editing to the ending of the commercials, I resold them to the new group, then another and another. The series of spots ended up being used all over the country and for a year or so, the money just rolled in. It was nice and must be how it feels to write a successful book or popular song…do it once and get paid for it forever.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s the holy grail, man!

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