Re: Freelancer's Guide

Subject: Re: Freelancer's Guide
From: Peter Kent <71601 -dot- 1266 -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 12 Nov 1995 12:24:12 EST

> Okay, I'll add that stuff to the list. I'll have to think about these
>subjects a little; I must admit they seem a bit broad. What do you think the
>hot consulting fields are? (WWW, WinHelp, multimedia?).
> Thanks,
> Peter Kent

>>>> Consulting? I thought you were working on an upgrade of your book
onfreelance tech writing, although I guess it is close to consulting. I would
beinterested in knowing what the best fields are currently for tech writers.
Iwas a tech writer when the hot subjects were radar, missiles, launch
systems,avionics, and mainframe-size digital systems. (For example, I wrote
aboutdigital communications gear for the Ballistic Missile Early Warning
System,but that was more than 30 years ago.) It was mostly about those and
othermilitary goodies, and I haven't been directly into tech writing
since,although I have considered getti ng back into it. But it seems to me,
from therather limited view I have of it now, that the focus is mainly on
desktopcomputers and related gear. Only today I steered someone to your
current bookand other sources as leads for gaining entree into tech writing,
but I needsoem up-t-date-information myself, and I suspect that I am not alone
in that.- Herm<<<

Herm, yes, I'm working on an update to my freelancer's book; freelancing and
consulting merge, though, don't they? I discuss in my book a range of ways to
work, from working through the agencies all the way to what I regard as true

I think you are right that most of the work is " desktop computers and
related gear." Most STC members are documenting software, for instance; they
are either working for companies that publish software, or they are working
for companies in a different business but which are writing software for
internal use. Most of the other writers seem to be documenting the hardware to
run that software!

I think there must be many different "hot" areas. I think of a hot area as
"niche," one in which you can easily find work--at good rates--if you have the
required skills. Two years ago WinHelp was that sort of thing; few people knew
how to create WinHelp files, so if you could do it it was relatively easy to
find work, and charge a high rate. That may have changed a bit; there seem to
be more people who can do WinHelp now. But it's still a good skill, as _most_
writers don't know how to do it.

HTML is hot these days, but this has grown so fast that people who couldn't
sign their own names 18 months ago are now creating Web pages. HTML
leapfrogged past WinHelp, as far as the number of people who know how to do
it; there are seminars and classes all over the place ("The Boulder School of
Massage, Bar Tending, and HTML Authoring"). In some ways I think WinHelp may
still be a better bet than HTML.

Someone mentioned Java--I'm sure that's a hot area, but it's also a long way
from writing; it's C++ programming. Netscape Livescript maybe handy; it's a
simplified form of Java, but that's in the HTML bailiwick, really.

Blackbird authoring may be a good skill to have 6 months from now; this is
the new Microsoft Multimedia authoring system that should be released in a few
months--it's designed to allow the author to create works for CDs and online
delivery. I haven't seen it yet, but in theory you don't need to be a
programmer to use it. One might think of it as an advanced Multimedia Viewer.

Yvonne DeGraw sent me a message yesterday, in which she mentioned the Home
Office Computing article called "Best Businesses for the Year 2000". In the
technology section, they list:

o Online and multimedia content consultant
o Videoconferencing organizer
o Programming consultant
o Electronic data interchange consultant
o Online host or moderator

Personally I'm a little suspicous of predictions this far (5 years) out; who
would have predicted just 2 years ago that HTML would be important, for
instance. It didn't even exist 5 years ago. Anyway, only the first of these
really applies to writers, and it's already important. (Though I'm not really
sure what they mean by "Electronic data interchange consultant")

By the way, I know a writer who runs forums on CompuServe. I don't know how
many people realize this, but the people running forums on CompuServe get
royalties; each time someone enters their forum, they get paid (according to
the amount of time that person spends there). There are people making tens of
thousands of dollars running single forums; my friend has a business with 5
employees, and runs 5 or 6 forums, I think.

In effect he, and other forum "sysops," are selling written information
online (along with access to a variety of programs and access to a place to
talk with other forum members).

Other online services work differently, by the way; AOL gives less away, and
manages more of the forums itself, for instance, but MSN takes a cut of the
online time in a similar way to CompuServe.

Any other useful skills for now or the next couple of years, anyone?

Peter Kent

Peter Kent: 71601 -dot- 1266 -at- compuserve -dot- com, 303-989-1869
Coming soon, an updated and revised Technical Writer's Freelancing
Guide. E-mail for more information. Comments/suggestions welcome.

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