Numbers Are For More Than Pages

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Being a writer, on the side or professionally, requires a lot of skills. A self-publisher wears many hats, but even authors with agents and support have to take on tasks other than writing. Of those many skills, one stands out as very important and easy to miss – Math.

People have widely differing reactions to hearing “we’re going to talk about math.” Trust me, it’s worth it whatever your response is – because math is used everywhere in an author’s work.

A writer’s growth requires math to be measured – and improved. Comparing word counts lets you determine if your typing speed is improving. Time taken to edit a document helps you determine if your grammar is improving. Becoming a better writer may mean being better at math.

But once you’re writing, math comes in again as you plot a schedule. How long will it take you to write this chapter for your pre-readers? How long until you need to get a cover from your artist? Scheduling is all math – often made more challenging with timezones, calculating dates, and the like.

As a book progresses, math once again comes to the fore. How fast are you working? What’s the percentage of a book done? Do you have to change your schedule or speed up your pace? Scheduling is math – but so is seeing how you’re doing.

When a book is done, there comes more math. How many pages is a book, and how does that affect cover size? What’s the ideal formatting with font sizes and margins? If you do self-publishing and don’t outsource formatting and the like, get out your calculator.

Finally, a book launches. It’s out and . . . here comes more math. You have to calculate if your ad spends are paying off. Evaluating book sales requires math, often with complex date-time calculations. Your newsletter opens and clicks need to be compared to past events – which means math.

It’s exhausting, isn’t it? When I first realized I had to write this column, I was overwhelmed with the realization of just how much math my own publishing involved. I was so used to it I didn’t see it – until I wrote this.

If you like math like me, or don’t, this should be a helpful realization. Math is a skill you need to use in writing, and if your math skills are lacking you have a new motivation to improve them. Math makes a better author.

Steven Savage

Behind Reporting

Have you ever had a sense that you don’t know what’s going on?

I’m not talking in the general sense (that’s your problem), but on a project, at work, or looking over some report or news article?  Yeah, I’m sure you have.

I’ve often wondered over the years as a psych major, engineer, and manager just how people can be so terribly wrong in keeping track of things.  Bad articles, incoherent software, senseless status reports all keep adding up to “duh” over and over again.  It’s sad enough that whenever I start some new project of any kind, I figure that the reporting involved is going to be wrong as a default.

But there’s something behind every meaningless statistic or confusing game interface.

That is MATH.

Math is what you use to report.  Math is what you use to say what things mean.  If you don’t have good numbers and do the right math, it’s meaningless.

This may or may not seem like a revelation, but to me it is – because having a science background, having built inventory systems, I’m used to math.  I marinate in math.  I have a minty math scent.

But not everyone has that experience.  Or interest.  Or obsession.

So next time you have to communicate data, next time you’re running a status report for a con, remember no matter how good you are at math or how much you like it – not everyone is like you.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at