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: Stories from the unemployed
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Feb 4th 2010
So this topic is something I've been thinking about for a long time now. Many of us have been laid off now but I think the travesty of the whole situation is how we are losing a bit of our humanity in the process.
Unique stories and perspectives aren't valued as much as vague abstractions and sheer numbers. You're more likely to hear about how 100,000 people lost their jobs this month than about the guy down the street who lost his job. The news will occasionally feature some personal stories, but inevitably they just use the individual as a microcosm for the economy as a whole. That's what they focus on: how bad the economy is now, how we got here, how long it'll take us to get out, etc.
I'm more interested in the people, though. I think on top of everything else the unemployed shouldn't have to lose their voices. What job did they lose? What were the exact reasons for the layoff? What's happened since? Did they really care about the jobs they used to have? Are people now working shitty jobs they don't like just so they can survive? Do they wish they hadn't been laid off or have things changed for the better?
What I've been thinking about doing is asking for submissions and editing a collection of people's stories. I figure the self-publishing route might be best although I've also considered the ebook market. I haven't done a lot of research into the publishing yet because I don't want to get ahead of myself.
I have some ideas about the project but I don't want to give away all my secrets just yet. At this stage, I'd really appreciate it if you guys could act as my sounding board and answer one or both of the questions below:
1) What's your immediate reaction to a project like this? Does it sound appealing? What I mean is, would you be interested in reading it or at least hearing more about it if you saw it listed on Lulu, Kindle Store, your local library, etc.?
2) Would the topic make the reading too depressing or could you see it working if done correctly? I realize it's depressing in some respects but there are books written about horrible things every day...I think as long as the content is handled correctly it can still be a very informative and powerful read. Obviously the layoffs will play a factor in the stories but I don't want to focus on them; the layoffs will just be the commonality between all the stories. I want to give people their voices and let them tell their stories--where they grew up, what their families are like, all those other questions I listed above, and so on.
Any feedback is most appreciated. Thanks very much, guys.
Feb 4th 2010
Andrew Sullivan was doing this for much of 2008/2009, I think he dropped it during the whole Iran/Twitter thing.
Feb 6th 2010
Yeah man, very topical, and if done well could be a really good read. I just saw
Up in the Air
, and, although the Clooney romantic A-plot was decent, what stuck with me was the final two minutes where unemployed people were interviewed (I assume here that those people were either genuinely unemployed or were actors using transcripts of interviews).
I was unemployed for most of 2009 and found the message, unoriginal and some might say trite though it was, that family and friends - a support network - are far more important than financial support to be touching and very personally resonant. Your project sounds like it could really draw out that aspect of the trauma for individuals and families that being laid off can be. I'd be all for it.
Feb 10th 2010
If the writing was strong enough, and there was an equally balanced message i.e. ways to get through the crushing depression, means to get by on low/zero incomes, as well as highlighting the insensitivity from various agencies towards the unemployed.
Something as simple as continuing unemployment payments in California resulted in a "We'll only tell you whether or not you get more money only at the very last minute, only when when you totally run out of money. Don't ever call us ever again, now fuck off." that and spending - literally- two weeks on the phone non-stop trying to get through to a human being...
Or employers cheerfully telling you that the job you applied for at the start of December? Haven't done jack shit about making a decision all December and January. Sorry d00d. You do still wanna work here, right?
Of course, I'd only be able to buy such a book when I got a job again.
9 Months and counting. *sigh*
Feb 10th 2010
I agree with Tim. I would respond more positively to a project like this if there were a few central, resonating themes, and I think he offers good suggestions. I also agree that you're best off either a) gathering a TON of submissions and weeding through to find really engaging and well-written entries or b) gathering stories and essentially ghost-writing them yourself. And if one of those themes is family support or getting through the depression, or even something more like shit happens and we move past it etc, then I think it could be very readable and not to soul-crushing - of course, that only matters if you want to garner a lot of interest now. I bet if you really focused on the pain of it, it would do well in a few years as a sort of historical chronicle. I think it's a neat idea, and I say go for it.
Feb 10th 2010
As one of the afflicted myself, I'd like to see something like this. The numbers are so full and heavy, they start making you feel like you're just part of a demographic, rather than an individual.
An not every one of us that gets laid off experiences depression or sees this as a horrible thing. I'm no Pollyanna about it, but for me being out of work has been a godsend. Learned more about myself in the last year than I have in the last decade.
And if you do decide to move forward, please keep me in mind, I'd be happy to write something on this and know it's not just going to disappear as the millionth post on my blog.
Feb 10th 2010
Your project will sell better as a "How To Survive The Current Depression" than a "Tales of the Current Depression" because, really, most people have their own stories to share (or will soon) and will be more willing to pay to find SOLUTIONS.
FREAKANGELS would make a good chapter, as I'm sure the creators here would agree to an interview. Other online creators that have made day jobs out of their creations (and you don't have to limit yourself to webcomics) will participate in something that will draw attention to their works.
That's basically what Tim Ferriss did with The Four-Hour Workweek. A How-To book for Lifestyle Design, sold in the business section of bookstores, promoted through interviews he gives on the web to associates whose websites end up getting mentioned in the updated version of his book.
I've heard the market for online business transactions are set to double every year for the next five years, so there's room for growth. As the economy keeps cooling down (and I don't think we've seen anywhere near the worst yet) more people are going to be doing it. Get in front of that wave by giving people the information they need to start. And THINK BIG.
Feb 10th 2010
I'm thinking about focusing on about a half dozen cities in the southeast for two reasons:
1) To limit the number of submissions I get. I'm worried that if I kept it open to the entire US I would open my inbox one morning and have 5000 emails or something.
2) To limit the amount of driving I would have to do. I mentioned this briefly on the Kickstarter thread a couple days ago. Basically, I want to meet the people in person; I don't want to do anything by email or over the phone because I think it would be too impersonal. Besides, I think it would add to the flavor of the book if I could not only visit different cities but also describe each individuals' mannerisms.
I'm still working out all the details for this project but I'll definitely keep you in mind. FWIW, I'm one of those that got laid off and took it pretty badly. I'm still not back to where I was, and I'm hoping that writing this book will help me get there.
I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you. This isn't supposed to be a book about solutions, at least not the monetary kind you mention. The book would lose its focus if it was written the way you describe. At the VERY least, there's a very small number of people who have been laid off and have been able to then start up some sort of web business.
I'm not going to deny that Tim Ferriss has made money off his book, because I'm sure he has, but I think most of his book is a load of BS. I put it up there with self-help gurus and that John Scherrer guy who sells the "this is how to use eBay, now give me a ton of cash" CDs late at night. For example, one of Ferriss' chapters deals with outsourcing your work overseas. Well that's all well and good, but how many people can actually do that? Stuff like that isn't going to help some guy that operates machinery in a factory.
I digress. Getting back to my main point though, I'm not trying to give people ways to make money now that they've been laid off. I don't have those answers. If I did, I'd be doing it now.
I like the idea of telling these people's stories and I don't care how well it sells. My goal, at least as far as selling the book goes, is just to make sure it gets to everyone who pledges money on Kickstarter and to get it into public libraries. Everything past that will just help reinforce the belief that I did a good thing by writing the book. I'm not making any profit on the book, I'm just selling it for the manufacturing cost. I think it'd be kind of cheap and fucked up to make money off other people's stories.
I think there's plenty of room for it in the market, though. There are plenty of people that have stories to tell but many of those people feel so segregated and lonely...I think it would help some people to read something like this and know that they aren't alone and that there is hope.
Feb 11th 2010
Sorry I thought you were serious about monetary success. I get this foolish notion to help people sometimes.
The only people who don't care about monetary success are broke.
Feb 11th 2010
It's OK, I can see how you might be mistaken by that. I just don't want to make money off these people. I can't sell the book for free because it costs money to print it. I think that's all people should have to pay; they can spend any money that would've gone to me to feed their families.
It's not that I don't want monetary success; I do. I just don't want it with this project because I don't think it would be fair to the people I interview. Also, notice that nowhere in my original post do I ask about whether something like this would be financially profitable. I just wanted to know if people might find it interesting to read. I'm going to assume (based on your comments) that your answer is a resounding "no".
And, you know, I'm not broke but I don't see how that's relevant. But that's OK too; I'm sure you will reply to this and explain why my financial status should concern you or anyone else besides my family and myself.
I just don't want to write the kind of book you want me to write.
Feb 11th 2010
No harm no foul.
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