Friday, July 5, 2019

How to be Excel-lent

By Abir

What’s the most valuable business skill that you’ve used in your writing career. Can be anything from contract negotiation to typing to computer programming, like HTML and making your own website, or anything else?

That’s a tough question. My day-job was as an accountant, and it’s fair to say not all of the skills I learnt at the accounting coal-face are readily transferrable to the cloistered, hallowed world of writing. Don’t get me wrong. I wish they were. I mean, I spent a lot of time studying the likes of International Financial Reporting Standard 5: Non-current Assets held for Sale and Discontinued Operations, and International Accounting Standard 29: Financial Reporting in Hyperinflationary Economies, and would love to make more use of that knowledge, but every time I try to include them in a novel, my editor (a notorious accounting-phobe) always cuts those hundred and eight pages out.

Nevertheless I do have my revenge. I once responded to a seven page editorial letter with a thirty slide PowerPoint presentation complete with star fades and animation. (I’m not even making that up). She told me I was the first author who’d ever done that. I found this surprising as I felt it increased the efficiency of the entire editorial process by almost two per cent. Despite her subsequent protestations to the contrary, I think she was secretly in awe of my fly PowerPoint skillz.

Then there are contracts. I have many flaws but being a lawyer isn’t one of them. Still, in my time, I’ve learned to read a contract pretty thoroughly. So much so, that when I received my first draft contract from my publishers, I went back to my agent with a list of questions longer than the contract itself. The subsequent conversation with my agent went something like this:

Agent: ‘Wow, Abir. I’ve never had an author respond with so many questions on a contract before.’
Me:     ‘Well, you have told me in the past that I’m not like all the others…that I’m special…’
Agent: ‘90% of the questions were stupid.’
Me:     ‘You told me there are no stupid questions.’
Agent: ‘True. But I said nothing about stupid people.’
Me:     ‘How much do I pay you again?’

There’s also that wonderous productivity tool, that prince among software packages – Excel. 

No. I'm serious. 

You may ask what use a financial modelling software app is in the world of writing, but it’s applications are myriad: I use it to keep track of the wholesale changes which require to be made to my work during the editing process; I use it when I’m plotting out my storylines; I’m also going to use it as an integral part of the erotic novel set in the steamy world of accountancy that I one day plan to write, entitled ‘Love Between the Spreadsheets’. I think it’s a sure-fire hit, though Eddie (another committed accountancy-phobe – what is it with these people?) is skeptical. 

Most of all though, I use Excel to work out just how much of a state of penury I’ve landed in having given up accountancy and followed the bright, shiny path of writing (and let me tell you, friends, that’s not a pretty spreadsheet at all).

And yet, despite all the red numbers on my spreadsheets; despite the great swathes of knowledge on accounting standards that is going to waste; despite the huge under-appreciation of my accountancy-related talents from the likes of agent and editor, I really wouldn’t want to go back to the old day job. 

I’m not mad.


Paul D. Marks said...

Can't wait to read "Love Between the Spreadsheets," Abir. That might help the bottom line, too...

Abir said...

Cheers Paul! I'm hoping it'll be huge!

Susan C Shea said...

You make accounting sound so...well, dull. So very glad you pivoted to something more clearly labeled fiction