my friend wrote a novel at work – should I tell our employer?

A reader writes:

I have a friend and coworker who is a gifted writer. She finished her first novel earlier this year and a publisher has offered her an advance that will let her quit our boring job and write full-time, which has always been her dream. I’m happy for her but morally uneasy knowing that at least 90% of the book was written while she was on the clock. She has small children and a home business and has admitted she doesn’t have any other time to write. I would hate to destroy her dream but it also feels wrong that our company may be being cheated out of a financial interest in what could turn into a big thing. Should I inform our supervisor or not?

No. U.S. copyright law does include a “work made for hire” provision, which says that the employer is the author and owner of work prepared by an employee within the scope of her employment — but a novel is presumably significantly outside the scope of her employment.

Some companies do have employees sign contracts that state that they’ll own any work that was produced while the employee was working for them (in some cases, even if that work was produced at home, outside of work hours). And if your coworker has such a contract, she’ll need to deal with that reality — but even then, it’s typical for a company to only exercise that right if the work developed is related to their business — which, again, doesn’t sound like the situation here.

But even if none of that were the case, the whole situation would be between her and the company; there’s no reason for you to insert yourself in the middle of it.

Your employer is responsible for holding your coworker accountable for whatever work they want her to do while she’s on the job. So either she was able to get all her work done to their satisfaction and work on the book in the time that remained, or they dropped the ball on managing her in a massive way.

And for what it’s worth, if you’re concerned about how your friend spent her time at work, you should be concerned about that regardless of whether her book was getting published. The publication isn’t really the issue here — her behavior on the job is, and you should have the same concern if she had spent that time playing on Facebook and watching videos of baby monkeys. But unless she went out of her way to actively deceive your employer about how she was spending her time, this is the kind of thing that should be spotted by competent management — or possibly was fine with them if she was getting her work done.

{ 288 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager Post author

    I’m sticking this up here in bold since there’s some incivility breaking out in the comments on this one:

    Please be respectful and civil toward the letter-writer, who wrote in sincerely asking for advice.

    1. Texazcutey

      I really think she should mind her own business. While she’s concerned in her friends business she needs to be worried about her own work.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Please be respectful toward people who ask me and the rest of this community for advice. There are ways to share this line of thinking without being rude about it.

    2. anon-2

      I once worked with a young lady – and her manager treated all of her subordinates with utter contempt.

      The young lady I speak of wound up getting an after-hours job, which allowed her to rub shoulders with some very influential folks. Which parlayed into a much better job, which turned into a management job in another city – in a different field.

      But nonetheless – a) highly successful and b) drove the contempt factor through the roof for her (former) manager.

      All we had to do to push the manager’s buttons in a meeting was to mention her former employee’s name. I have to plead guilty, I liked to do that.

      Respectfully – this sounds like a situation in which OP’s buttons can be pushed by mentioning the novelist’s name. OP should not bring this into the office, or make an issue of it, lest she get her buttons pushed by other employees.

  2. A Jane

    “And for what it’s worth, if you’re concerned about how your friend spent her time at work, you should be concerned about that whether or not her book was getting published”

    I think it should be shouldn’t?

    1. Persephone Mulberry

      I had to read it twice myself, but it is correct as written. Mentally replace “whether or not” with “regardless of whether”.

    1. Jennifer

      Technically speaking, I guess it doesn’t matter what her future ex-employer thinks of her if she’s quitting. What are they gonna do?

      At any rate: some jobs have more “dead time” than others and as long as she got all of the work done she could during the day and was only writing during “dead time,” who the hell cares? And yeah, if she wasn’t getting her work done at all and the office didn’t notice at all, that says something about them too.

      1. Miss Evy

        I have to throw a hand up for “some jobs have more ‘dead time’ than others”.

        I worked briefly as technical support during the graveyard shift for a 24/7 in IT. My shift was from 3:00am Pacific to 11:00am Pacific, and there were days when I had anywhere from 3-5 hours when we received no emails, no phone calls, and no work whatsoever. This number was closer to 5-6 hours on weekend shifts.

        We were encouraged to study for technical certifications during our down time (I completed a Network+ certification in about a month of focused studying, as an example), but there was no explicit rule stating that you could not work on your own projects while at work. I know at least two people in my company wrote novels or short stories when they were working their respective shifts, that eventually got published. At least one other person has worked on personal programming projects, and a former coworker worked on web design work to add to her portfolio, eventually allowing her to find a great job that was more in line with what she wanted to do.

        If LW’s former coworker was getting all of her work done and wasn’t shirking by any means, I should think that it doesn’t matter what she was doing in that dead time.

  3. LQ

    I think that part of what you’re feeling here is a desire for the most dreaded of F words. Fair. You might be feeling like it isn’t fair that she got to write while you had to work and now she is getting rewarded for bad behavior?

    This is something to let go.

    Focus on your work, if a coworker is pushing work off to you (for any reason) it is reasonable to talk to a supervisor at that point. If a year later they win the lottery with the tickets they were scratching while you were doing data entry you’re a little late.

    1. Anon..anon

      I think you got it right. The OP is jealous the co-worker gets to escape their “boring” job to do something cool and feels slighted he/she worked while the co-worker wrote a novel on company time. Now the OP is masking these feelings as concern for the company.

      1. LQ

        I think it is reasonable to feel that way. You can be happy for someone and jealous they escaped a situation you’d like to escape. Jealously here can be a motivator (it doesn’t have to be a dirty word). Recognize that and start (or continue) looking for a new job.

        1. Cat

          Also, let’s be honest, don’t we all have That Co-Worker who we like very much as a person but where if their novel suddenly took off, all we’d be able to think is “The universe allowed WHAT to happen?!” It’s like, imagine how you’d have felt if you worked with the 50 Shades of Grey lady.

          1. nyxalinth

            Yes, this. Especially since all it is is Alternate Universe Twilight fanfic with the names changed. Not to say that fanfic isn’t good–I write it, myself!–but there’s good stuff and then there’s the stuff that makes you want to spork your own eyes, just like any other genre.

            Having said that, I think Alison raised a good point when she said “he publication isn’t really the issue here — her behavior on the job is, and you should have the same concern if she had spent that time playing on Facebook and watching videos of baby monkeys.” OP, search your heart, and if you can genuinely say that is the case, or at least mostly the case, then you’re fine. If not… please don’t act merely out of jealousy against your friend. I know it’s hard. I will probably never get to do that. (I’m write good stuff, but there’s a difference between ‘writing well’ and ‘writing what sells’ sometimes and i have yet to find the Magical Overlap!).

        2. Laura

          I had a coworker like that in a contract job, where she’d come in late every day, waste time talking to her mom and surfing the net, and presumably never got punished for it, because when there was only one permanent position at the end of the contract, she got it. So it’s probably a case of “If she can do x, why can’t I”…which is something you need to let go, because life is not fair (though I wish it was) it’s still an understandable way to feel

    2. hildi

      Regarding fairness.

      I have had some interesting discussions in my classes and have come to the personal conclusion that people see the concept of fairness differently. I think there are some people that think fair means everyone is treated equally, no matter what, black and white. Then there are others that view fairness as everyone gets what they need and circumstances can vary.

      I figured this out after doing an activity in a personality styles class where I got people into groups of 10 and handed out a bag with 8 mini candy bars. I told them that the store didn’t have enough so that they’ll need to figure out how to divide them up.

      It was fascinating to me as I watched class after class do the following: Group A (the group that was more people-focused in their preferences) would often try to solve this problem by first trying to figure out if anyone cannot eat candy (medical reasons or diet); then when a few dropped out that way, the others would often dither about and defer to others before they would take their own. I observed this type of personality continually considering individual circumstances in their quest for fairly dividing up the candy.

      Group B, on the other hand (and these were the people that identified more as task-focused individuals), almost always used math or some really black and white tool to equally divide up the candy. There was no discussion about individual preferences, individual circumstances – they just figured everyone got the same side sliver as everyone else. End of story. It was amazing to watch.

      I have had similar conversations play out in customer service class where we talked about the same phenomenon: that oftentimes customers want to be treated individally with their own circumstances taken into consideration, while the employee providing the customer service might have the latter notion of fairness (everyone gets the same) and that disconnet of the defiinition of fairness can cause some problems.

      I know this has nothing to do with the letter, but your talk of “fair” made me think of it again.

        1. LCL

          One part of my job is scheduling overtime. I had to talk to one employee at length, repeatedly, with detailed explanations of our OT process to convince her it was fair. But she was still convinced that she was being cheated because some people had much more OT than she did. I finally got her to go away by telling her fair was a lot like (adult material) everybody thinks they know it when they see it but definitions differ. I finally figured out what was griping her was she thought she wasn’t getting the same shifts offered as some other employees. And she wasn’t because of the workweek she had.

          We assign OT by making a list of the persons that could work and their last 12 months OT, then asking the persons on the list in order of lowest hours to highest. Since we work shifts, and OT is usually caused by employee absences, some people had a greater opportunity to work OT.

        1. Jessa

          Yes, it was fascinating and I never thought about the different definitions of fair that way.

      1. Mints

        I read something almost exactly like this! I can’t find it now, but I can try harder once I’m home if you’re interested.
        (it was a chapter excerpt from a book [for a pubic policy class])
        It was all the different ways a teacher could split up a cake that normally feeds 8, among a class of 30. You could give everyone a fork and let them fight for bites, you could give a slice to the first eight inside, or the best eight students, or the self selected most hungry, or 30 tiny slices, or draw from a hat. Each was fair in a different way, with hugely varying outcomes.

    3. Lizzy

      Very good comments without piling on the OP. I was stunned at the tone of this letter, especially as I am an aspiring writer myself. Of course, I don’t use company resources and time when I am expected to produce work, so I understand the frustration there. That being said, I feel this has more to do with envy then anything else. But I am going to respect Alison’s pleas to keep this civil and leave it at that.

    4. Piper

      This is what it sounds like to me, too.

      I work with a guy who worked on a ton of side projects during work hours (they were related to the field we work in and our employer told him he could if all of his other projects were caught up). I was irritated because I have side projects that I’d also love to work on while on the clock at my day job, but I don’t.

      Fast forward several months and he’s put in his notice and our employer is trying to take ownership of all the things they let him work on on company time. So, I guess there’s that. I do feel bad for him, though, because they’re being sort of obnoxious about it, but then, he did work on it on the clock. Crappy situation all around and definitely not “fair.”

        1. Stephanie

          +1

          I’m sick today, so I think I figured out a way to break up the Law and Order reruns.

            1. Jessa

              ACK, more time wasting things to look at. I had never seen the puppy site.

              See your puppy site and raise you “Featured Creature”

              http://www.thefeaturedcreature.com/

              Some of the stuff is really weird or strange looking animals, but she did a piece on those black nosed sheep.

              http://www.thefeaturedcreature.com/2013/08/valais-blacknose-sheep-are-the-omgwtf-kind-of-cute.html

              And sometimes she posts the most amazing rainbow bugs (yes I know sometimes people think bugs are icky but these are like nature’s art.)

      1. Windchime

        I have to say that when I first read this letter, my first thought was: “OK, Elizabeth, are you writing your book at work!??” (Just kidding, I know you wouldn’t do that.)

      1. Jamie

        More than anything in the world I want to go to Costa Rica and work in the sloth sanctuary. If you all have the chance to see it on Animal Planet check it out – it’s amazing.

        They used to have a volunteer program where you would pay to stay there and help which to me would be the only vacation worth leaving the house. They have shifted into controlled research since last year so they are no longer accepting tourist volunteers.

        If I could live amongst them I don’t think I’d have another chaotic moment – and just thinking about this makes me ashamed of what I’m not doing with my life.

        1. Kelly O

          Or you could save the international flight and just come to my house on a Saturday morning… *rim shot

    1. Gene

      Youtube search term, “baby monkeys”.

      “About 525,000 results”

      This is going to take longer than today.

  4. The Real Ash

    I would hate to destroy her dream but it also feels wrong that our company may be being cheated out of a financial interest in what could turn into a big thing.

    Reverse this scenario. Would it feel wrong to cheat your friend out of part of her financial interest in what could turn into a big thing?

    I don’t want to sound like a jerk, so I apologize in advance but… You’re more worried about your company getting money off of your friend than your friend living her dream and earning money to care for herself and her family? That is so screwed up. I think you need to take a step back here and have a good, long look at your moral compass–and probably your true motive for even caring about this–and figure out why you’re putting a corporation’s interests ahead of your friend’s. She hasn’t done anything illegal (as far as we have been told), she hasn’t done anything truly unethical, and if management didn’t intervene when she was doing this on the clock, what is the actual issue here?

    1. fposte

      It might also be worth considering the OP genuinely didn’t realize how different this would be from somebody who was, say, operating their home business out of their workplace office. It’s not necessarily an intuitive difference.

      1. Katie the Fed

        My guess is it started as a hobby and she didn’t expect it to get published. I agree, it’s different than, say, running a real estate business on the side while at work.

        1. Elizabeth West

          No way. If she was querying, it, which she would have had to do to get a publisher’s attention, it was not a “hobby.”

          I don’t mean to be harsh, but that is a pet peeve of mine; writing novels is hard work and it is most decidedly not a hobby just because it’s not published yet. I just want that to be clear.

          1. Katie the Fed

            Couldn’t she have queried it AFTER it was written?

            I feel like you read an awful lot into my comment and put words into my mouth, to be honest.

            I was addressing her intent in doing it at work – not saying that novel writing is a hobby. It may have STARTED as a hobby and she realized that it could potentially sell.

            1. Elizabeth West

              I’m sorry, Katie, I didn’t mean to do that. Please forgive me.

              If she was doing it at work because she couldn’t do it at home, I would assume that she was pretty intent on finishing it, which doesn’t strike me as hobby writing. She probably knew she was taking a risk if anyone caught her, depending on how her managers felt about doing personal stuff at work.

              And you’re correct; you never query a novel until it’s finished (and edited, in case you get asked for pages).

              1. Katie the Fed

                It’s cool! We all have our hot button issues :)

                I love to write but I know I’m nowhere near disciplined enough to finish a novel. All kinds of respect for those who do.

                1. Rayner

                  Just out of interest, there’s also anthologies and novellas that people submit for. That’s where I just got published – my first (and only) one was only 12k so there’s no need to say publishing starts with novels.

                2. Elizabeth West

                  Rayner is right; when the short story market was booming, many many writers started there.

                  I don’t do many shorts anymore. I like the novel as a form and most of my ideas skew in that direction. I still like to do them every once in a while, to force careful word choices on myself (for length reasons).

                3. Rev.

                  I self-pubbed a novel, just to see how the process worked (and figured I’d rather pitch a completed project), but I much prefer writing short stories. I’ll plead no contest to being a bit lazy.

              2. Calla

                I don’t know, I can imagine that she didn’t have publishing in mind while writing it. The first thing that pops into my mind, though it may not be the situation of OP’s coworker, is NaNo. There’s a definite drive to finish there, even though most people do it for fun — and getting the results (after editing) published isn’t entirely unheard of.

      2. Ellie H.

        It struck me that way too – home business from the workplace office. It seems kind of unsavory. If it were that she was reading a book or doing crossword puzzles in her spare time, I would feel pretty differently (laissez-faire) but my first impression was to assess that she is engaged in some kind of remunerative professional enterprise while on someone else’s clock. I totally agree with Alison’s advice (if she met benchmarks and management didn’t care, so be it) but the home business analogy occurred to me first.

    2. Katie the Fed

      As far as the ethics – I’d put it in an ethical gray area without more information (does the company allow people to work on their own projects during down time, etc). But that’s her own issue to contend with.

      1. The Real Ash

        I agree that it’s definitely a murky situation, but then you have a comparison of ethics here. What is more unethical? Your friend working on her novel during work hours, yet still completing her work (which I am assuming is the case as the OP didn’t say anything about her working on a novel and not doing her work) -or- you tattling on your friend because you’re jealous of her success / unhappy she is “escaping” while you’re stuck there / [insert the real reason you even care about this issue] but you’re pretending to do it under the guise of protecting the company and earning them money? To me, the answer is obvious.

        1. Katie the Fed

          Yeah, I answered that second part below (on whether she should tell on the friend). I was addressing the writing-the-novel at work part. I do think some of the ethics hinge on whether or not she expected to make money off it.

        2. fposte

          I don’t think that either of them are necessarily unethical, but it doesn’t have to be unethical to be the worse choice.

      2. Chinook

        I woudl say the the friend’s actions are in an ethically grey area and depends completely on what she does at work and whether or not the novel writing actually interferred with her work. If she was a nurse or doctor who took time away to be with patients to be at her computer versus the hospital receptionist who is “engaged to wait to wait” until work is given to her (either by the phone ringing or someone assigning her a task) really does colour my perspective.

        I have been that receptionist and, if I was better organized, I probably could have written a novel in a couple of my jobs during the downtime. At this current job, it wouldn’t be possible without people noticing my lack of productivity or questioning the value of this position to the company (i.e. if I am not busy entering all these jobs into the work order and tracking systems, why would they need someone in my chair).

        1. manybellsdown

          Oh yeah, the “being paid to wait” thing. I’d never used Excel until I took a receptionist gig that was basically staring at the walls for 8 hours unless the copier broke. So I taught myself Excel to stave off boredom. Really. You can only play so many games of Solitaire.

        2. GrizzlyUrsula

          It sounds like she worked from home at least some of the time, so I doubt she had the kind of job where her physical presence was required.

          I’ve got a job kind of like that. I’m not a receptionist, but its often the case that I’m waiting on either the clients or the computer before I can move forward with my work. I’ve got to come in and be at my desk, because stuff could come in today at 3:00 or tomorrow at 9:00 or next Tuesday sometime and there isn’t anything I can do to change that timeline. As long as I’m there and keeping an eye on things, my company really doesn’t mind if I spend some time typing.

        3. Mints

          Yeah, if her managers didn’t manage enough to notice she was writing at work (or cared), I don’t find it really problematic. Maybe she had terrible managers, or maybe she had a “waiting” job. There’s possibly better things to do, but like, now that she’s getting published, it sure seems like the right choice for herself

  5. former book publishing lady

    Getting an advance on her first novel is no guarantee that your friend will be able to make a living as a writer (or even earn out the advance she already received) and, thus, never need a day job again.

    If what you are implying is true (that she stole time from your employer to write her novel), your employer will figure it out and she may not be eligible for re-hire or a good reference if she has to go back to a day job.

    In other words, there’s no reason to sweat this. It’s between your friend and the company.

    1. The Real Ash

      I hate the usage of the phrase “time stealing”. It’s one of those horrible jargon phrases like “synergy” or “game changer” that makes me cringe. It seems like another way for employers to make employees feel bad about taking some time to themselves throughout the day, regardless of the reason. I just envision it like a terrible 1950s propaganda movie. “Better not go to the bathroom outside of my pre-scheduled and employer-approved break time. I don’t want to be a… TIME STEALER!” “Joe was a time stealer and now he is in prison for being a Communist.”

      1. former book publishing lady

        I’m not necessarily a fan of the term, either, but I’m not sure of a better way to describe what the LW implies happened. (Whether or not she’s correct.)

        1. The Real Ash

          I’m not getting down on you for using it, so I apologize if it came off that way. It was more of a general rant.

      2. Heather

        +1

        It sounds like something out of a Walmart training film, like Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about in Nickel and Dimed.

        Although if you could really steal time, I would take some from the people who brag about only getting 4 hours of sleep a night. If they’re not using it to sleep, I will ;)

    2. Anonathon

      I was going to mention that too: even a quit-your-day-job level advance is no guarantee of a “big thing.” Some writers get a super small first advance, and then became very successful, and others get huge advances that they don’t earn out. This isn’t really the point, but you can’t make concrete future predictions about either her life or the company’s “share” based just on the advance size.

    3. Sunflower

      Yes, in fact I would advise your friend to not quit her day job in the case that she is thinking about it.

    4. Del

      This, this this this!

      I had a friend who quit his (very well paying) job to write. Even with significant savings to tide him over, he was broke, bankrupt, and in terrible health within a couple years because his writing simply didn’t take off the way he’d hoped it would. Quitting the day job to write is a very, very big and risky step to take.

      1. former book publishing lady

        I worked at a medium niche publisher, so our authors didn’t make as much as big NY publishers, but even so I can’t think of one of our authors who made enough on royalties to do nothing else – most of them at least did other freelance writing and editing.

          1. The IT Manager

            And from what I can tell in the sci fi community, these writers are often one medical problem away from bankrupcy. (I think that’s one of the problems that the ACA is fixing though.)

            1. Jenna

              I know of one author that was very happy that they could finally quit their day job, now that they could actually get insurance on their own. Health insurance was why they were still there.

        1. L McD

          Yeah, this is accurate. The only novelists I know who support themselves full-time on writing are self-publishing, either exclusively or in additional to their traditional publishing relationships (I’m one of the former).

        2. teclatwig

          Yeah, this is one of the things I have learned by reading blogs, Twitter, etc. by my favorite scifi authors. One of my favorite is currently publishing two novels a year, has contracts for about a dozen more to finish the series, publishes short stories in anthologies, and has a number of projects in development. She has been doing this for years, and only with the enactment of Obamacare has she been able to quit her full-time job. Granted, she might be more risk-averse than some, but I think this illustrates the principle that getting published once is more like winning a really good scratcher, as opposed to hitting the lotto jackpot.

      2. Chinook

        I laugh at the concept of quitting your job to write because every Canadian writer I know of still has some type of day job. Heck Margaret Attwood was still an English professor when she was in her heyday and still does paying speaking gigs because no Canadian writer could survive on what they actually make.

          1. AnotherAlison

            Lol. . .when I was a kid, my friend’s mom was Margaret Attwood, and my friend said her mom was THE Margaret Atwood. The name didn’t mean anything to me, but my friend informed me she was a famous author. : )

        1. Jill G.

          I saw her at the National Book Fair last September. Met her and she signed my copies of Oryx & Crake and Handmaid’s Tale. BEST DAY EVER!

    5. De Minimis

      I read an essay a while back by a first-time author chronicling the financial failure [where the sales fail to cover the advance as mentioned above] of her novel, and the financial turmoil it put her in. I would agree with the advice of those who suggest your friend shouldn’t quit her job, although perhaps the advance might be sufficient to be able to change jobs if that’s something she was looking to do.

      I wouldn’t get involved….there isn’t really any way it would have a good outcome.

      1. former book publishing lady

        And a lot of advances are paid in installments, the last installment being paid on publication because it’s not at all unusual for a publisher to kill a book between the contract and publication stage.

        1. Rayner

          Or if people do anthologies, they get a one time payment between about $75 to $200, and that’s it. No where near enough to publish and live on.

  6. Virginian

    For all the OP knows, she could have been writing the novel during her lunch break. Overall, I don’t think this is anything that the OP should be concerned about.

    1. the gold digger

      A college friend who does now make his living writing novels (check out Jeff Abbott!) used to get to his office at 5 a.m. so he could write before work. Technically, he was writing at work. But he was not stealing his employer’s time.

      1. Tiffany In Houston

        Thanks for the recommendation!! I love thrillers and he’s a Texan too! YEAH!!

          1. the gold digger

            And he’s good! I love reading his stuff, knowing that my friend wrote it. And he usually – at least in the earlier books – sneaks in some reference to Rice, which is where we went to college. In his more recent books, he has gone all East Coast, but you have to go with the market sometimes.

            English majors, unite!

    2. manybellsdown

      And some jobs just don’t have enough work to fill the day. Or after several years at the same job, you’re much more efficient and tasks that took all day are now 20 minutes of your morning.

      1. TychaBrahe

        I have worked several jobs where the primary duty was to be physically present (college desk clerk, help desk staff). I got lots of homework done at the first one, lots of knitting done at the second.

        1. Amy

          ditto! I had that while working at a college academic office as the help desk person and also as a Loan Processor at a mortgage bank… my main job was literally just doing as I was told; I couldn’t be proactive about anything because it all depended on being given loan applications to process…if no one had any applications to give me, I just caught up on CNN

  7. Celeste

    I think that the most the OP could “get” out of the situation is getting their friend fired, and that’s if the person doesn’t quit first and the employer was dissatisfied with her work performance.

    OP, there are lots of ways out of a boring job. If you want one, you can find it, too. I mean that.

  8. BadPlanning

    I wish I were the OPs coworker.

    Some jobs have a lot of on the clock downtime. It’s not clear to me if the OPs job is one of those, but I know people who have worked at jobs where they read or knit or something because there’s nothing else to do (at least not something that would allow them to be available at a moment’s notice to do their job).

    1. Smilingswan

      I agree. I was wondering why the OP doesn’t do something useful and/or lucrative with her downtime? Or maybe she doesn’t have as much as her coworker.

  9. Maria

    I think the OP should genuinely be happy for her “friend” or just go ahead and destroy her dreams. I really dislike this middle ground disguised as “feelings of what is wrong”…ugh.

  10. RubyJackson

    Yeah, the phrase “quit our boring job” instead of “quit her boring job” made it seem like the OP is envious. Hence, the false loyalty to the company.

    This is really a management issue for the managers, as Alison said.

  11. CanadianWriter

    The appropriate time to bring this up was when you first noticed that she was writing during the work day. Now, you just look bitter.

    1. Whippers

      +1
      Yeah, why is it only an issue for the OP now that the co-worker is getting published? To say that she is worried that the company will get cheated out of a financial interest seems completely disingenuous.

  12. sunny-dee

    Just to note, it may not even be that the friend was slacking. I have had a couple of jobs (receptionist for a government office) where my job was to man the phones and do light admin tasks — but it was nowhere near 9 hours of work a day. They just needed a warm body up front. In a case like that, it would be entirely possible to spend 3 hours a day writing, and never slack on any work. Since this is a “boring” job, the friend may well have a situation like that.

    1. LMW

      Yeah, during my stint as a receptionist there was literally nothing to do but wait for the phone to ring (I asked! Repeatedly!)…I read a lot and learned to build websites on geocities.

      1. Chinook

        Been there.. a receptionist position is where I leanred that asking for work too many times just emans that colleagues avoid eye contact when they walk by your desk because they know what the question will be.

      2. Parfait

        I had a job like that once and it nearly destroyed my ability to do work. I was so used to reading the internets all day, that I got swiftly canned from the next job I got. Oops.

        On the other hand, getting canned from that job set me on the path I’m on now, so it all worked out in the end.

    2. some1

      It’s possible, but it sounds like the coworker has some awareness that this wouldn’t have been cool with her supervisor:

      “She has small children and a home business and has admitted she doesn’t have any other time to write.”

      I’ve been a receptionist where I was really needed to be a gatekeeper and I was limited to being able to take on tasks that I could do at my desk.

      If someone had called me out for surfing the internet (which I did a lot), I would explain that it was okay because my other tasks were done. I didn’t say, “Oh, well, I have to surf the net here because I don’t have internet access at home.”

      1. sunny-dee

        Gotta say, the phrasing from the OP sounds a lot like spin. The friend probably doesn’t sit at a computer for hours on end at home because she’s caring for small children or doing other things. Whereas, she may well have time to write (lunch time or downtime) at work. That’s what I took it as. (Also, I had a friend who only did online shopping or checked email or FB at work because she didn’t have a computer at home for YEARS. Just didn’t want one, and 30 minutes of websurfing a day wasn’t enough of a reason to get one.)

        The thing is, there is no reason to believe the friend wrote this in 3 months of intense effort. This could have been spaced out in 1-2 hour chunks over 4 years, and the friend is just grateful to have an hour of downtime at work that she can’t find at home.

      2. fposte

        I think that’s about what’s going on outside of the office, though; it doesn’t say anything about what’s happening in it. I temped at a couple of jobs where I could have easily written a few novels a year without interfering with the workflow.

        And if the OP’s friend was indeed writing when she was supposed to be working, that was bad and the manager should have straightened her out. But that doesn’t change the answer to “What should the OP do now?”

        1. Student

          The Sherlock Holmes series was written by a guy who didn’t have anything else to do at work.

          I don’t think writing is inherently worse than any other task one might decide to do to fill empty time at work. Seems like a all-around “better” choice than looking at cats on the internet. If she was writing her novel instead of doing assigned work, that’s a different matter, but that should be her manager’s problem to sort out.

    3. Adam

      Agreed. There’ve been many times where I approached my manager about having excess time on my hands and gotten a response that was “Look busy”. It wasn’t so much that there were other things that were acceptable for me to do, just give the impression so as not to draw suspicion that I didn’t really have anything to do right then.

    4. Elizabeth West

      Oh God, yes. At Exjob, I sat there every afternoon after I got caught up and did literally nothing but transfer calls. Many days, when the calls were light, I was so bored I had to do something, so I started bringing a flash drive in with me and working on stuff. If anyone needed anything, I had it, but the rest of the time I was on my own.

  13. Katie the Fed

    OP – I understand your concern because most employers do prohibit use of company resources while on the job. But that ship has sailed – the book is done and she’s leaving the job, so there’s really nothing that telling the employer now would accomplish.

    Personally, I do think it’s ethically questionable to use paid work time for something like that, but it’s over and done with now so there’s no further cost to the company. There’s also nothing the company could do to stop it at this point

    I’d just be happy for your friend – it’s a big accomplishment no matter how she did it. It gives people like me hope that this is doable as well – that’s my dream as well but it seems beyond impossible.

    1. Fish Microwaver

      I don’t get why it is ethically worse to do something that might potentially make the employee some money (writing a novel, playing the market etc) on work time as opposed to something that is just for fun (knitting silk tea cosies, doing crossword puzzles etc).

  14. MR

    If someone is able to write 90 percent of a novel while on the clock for an employer, this screams that there is incompetent management running this company.

    It’s one thing if someone has a few minutes to jot down some ideas about a novel/book/website/whatever while they have some downtime during their job. It’s another thing that they are able to write an entire novel that is done well enough to receive an advance that enables them to quit their job outright.

    This is a giant red flag about the company and I’d be more concerned about the long-term viability of the company and my position/job security if I were the OP.

    1. Michelle

      Not necessarily. We don’t know how long she has been working on the novel or how long it is.

      If she was writing 250 words a day (1 page) that might have taken 15-30 minutes. 1,000 words (about 4 pages) might take 1-2 hours. If she was working on lunch or around her other tasks it would be completely possible to write an entire novel while on the clock, but still not take up a majority of the work day.

      1. krm

        I get an hour off for lunch, as well as 2 15 minute paid breaks every day. It would definitely be possible to write about 1000 words a day in my situation! Also, there are many time, particularly during our slow times, that I am waiting for work. My boss has ok’d bringing in a book to read, etc. during that downtime.

        1. Smilingswan

          But if you’re writing on your lunch or break, you’re aren’t using company time. I took it to mean that she is writing while clocked in and being paid to work. How much downtime does her job really have? And when will they be hiring her replacement . . . I just might apply! ;)

    2. majigail

      +1! I think there’s either a huge management problem here or management knows and is ok with for the reasons the other posters say. However, I think if management was reasonably competent and cared, they would have nipped it in the bud by now.

    3. QualityControlFreak

      I normally arrive 30 – 45 minutes before my start time. I usually spend my lunch hour at my desk. This is approximately 1.5 hours a day, five days a week that I am at work but not on the clock. It would be possible to write a novel over a span of years, without using company resources or charging your time to your employer. That may or may not be the case here, but it would be possible.

  15. Annamaison

    As a young person I worked for a wonderful man who hired me to answer the phones, run errands, back up the computer, be nice to clients and to make sure there was always fresh coffee available.

    It just so happens I also wrote a book while I was there. Heck, I even gave my boss a cameo appearance in it, and he was quite chuffed about it.

    If you think about this way, what the boss really wanted was for someone to be available. How I filled my time when he didn’t need me, didn’t really concern him all that much, as long as it was quiet and office-appropriate. I was a rockstar at that job! The phone never went un-answered. The coffee was always fresh and hot. Data was safe and secure. And his wife seemed to like the gifts I picked out.

    Wish I could say the book was as successful.

    Point is, as has been made before, your boss could be very happy with your friend’s work. You won’t know though, because its between your friend and your boss.

    1. Jessica

      Exactly. I have a job that at its core requires me to be available to answer the phone. Before I even took the job I made it clear that based on the description, the job duties would not occupy me full time, and I wanted to be sure that my supervisor would not judge how I occupied my time while waiting for the phone to ring, assuming I completed all duties well and on time. Based on feedback I’ve gotten I believe I’ve exceeded expectations in getting my work done, and I’ve had time to work on a manuscript and write a blog in my downtime (plus read a ton of books on my desktop Kindle app). If my supervisor ever has an issue with my work not getting done, I assume he would tell me, regardless of what he knows or doesn’t know about how I’m spending my downtime.

      1. bad at online naming

        Yes!

        It’s entirely possible this was entirely in the clear, not even in a grey area.

        I chose my part-time theatre job in college in part because it had downtime during which I could do homework – or work on other contract-y type work and thus kinda get paid twice for the same hour. It felt like cheating the system a little bit, but both employers were more than okay with it as long as the work was done competently. If I had been more creative and less strapped for cash, maybe I would’ve written a novel instead – that also would’ve been entirely fine.

        And now, in my full-time role, my employer doesn’t even claim related work I do “off the clock” even though I’m salaried. (woo!) I could chose to come in early, leave late, and take an hour or two off to write a novel each day and it would be equally fine. Someone somewhere might give me the side eye for using the company’s fast internet to research, but I doubt it, as long as I were getting my job done well.

    2. Dulcinea

      Man, I would LOVE IT if I had an assistant whose job was to just answer my phone, fetch my mail, and otherwise sit quietly until I needed an errand run or something….I wouldn’t care if that person read, wrote, filed their nails or watched tv so long as they were there when I needed them.

      In fact sometimes I wish that I had a job like that! At my old job our secretary had a lot of downtime and she would frequently complain about being bored. Whereas I was jealous, because as an attorney, downtime for me means no billable hours which = bad. But for her, she was doing her job *just*by*sitting*there* and waiting for the phone to ring….doesn’t sound so bad ! (And she also made more money than I did, but that’s a different story).

  16. Trillian

    On one of my time-management reading binges, I ran across a story about a company that complained to a management guru about one of their employees, who worked a few hours and then disappeared to play cards. When the guru probed, the company admitted he was their top performer – but how could they stop him from goofing off. You don’t, the guru said. You hire more like him.

    The point is, companies are really paying for productivity, not hours, though mostly they forget that. If it’s not lax management, then your friend has obviously cracked the productivity equation. (I’d say she has, anyway: job, children, and novel). Don’t turn her in, pick her brains! Learn her secrets, and apply them to your own career or dream.

    1. Anonicorn

      The point is, companies are really paying for productivity, not hours, though mostly they forget that.

      Amen to that. I have bursts of concentrated productivity that last about 4 hours where I can get a ton of things done, then I spend the rest of my time doing mindless tasks (sorting my inbox, deleting files, etc) because I’m almost useless at that point. I wish I had a steady flow of efficiency, but I just don’t work that way.

      1. teclatwig

        Oh man, yes, amen. I now know it’s due to ADHD, but when I was a legal secretary I worked at 150% for hours or days, and then needed to just decompress by reading or walking around. The lawyers loved me, even begging me to be the one to handle their work. The office manager hated this, and preferred the lackluster-yet-constant folks who gave maybe 70% effort, if that. It was always so frustrating for me, because I simply couldn’t rewire myself to work that way.

      2. Blue Anne

        Same here. Morning, I’m fantastic. Come in to work, power through all my emails, make some sales, issue invoices, chase debtors, balance the numbers, report to the FD, balance all the numbers!

        Afternoon… murr…. how about some inbox reloading time…

  17. Dan

    General comment on “ethically questionable” activities while on employer time: AAM already addressed it, but it’s worth repeating. You either are getting your work done or you’re not. It’s your manager’s job to MANAGE. If you’ve got too much free time on your hands, it’s your boss’s job to address it. If he’s not going to do that, then too bad.

    1. Sunflower

      Yes this is so right. I think everyone has been told at some point in some job to ‘ just go find something to work on’. I’ve had barely any work for the past 3 months- I’ve spent time doing things like redoing forms and trying to fix things to increase efficiency and no one cares and it’s just a waste of my time now. I spend most of the day on AAM or reading articles. It’s really out of my hands. I mean, am I really supposed to just sit here and stare at the computer all day?

      1. Jennifer

        Hah, at some jobs yes, you would be supposed to sit there staring at the computer. I have been told we should just read our office website (over and over and over again) when we are doing public service shifts and there’s a break in the lines of people and we’re out of other work we can do back there. But come ON.

        In my experience, asking other people for work (a) usually means you still don’t get any work, and (b) calls it to the boss’s attention that you don’t have enough to do, which means you are easily laid off. I suspect the best thing you can do if you are totally out of workload is to well, work on writing your novel because it at least makes you Look Busy.

    2. Katie the Fed

      No, I’m sorry but I disagree. Just because something isn’t expressly prohibited doesn’t mean it’s ok to do. For example, most jobs won’t look too kindly on you running a second business from work during your down time. It’s hard to say if she started this with the intent of it being a money-making venture or not.

      I think the best course of action would be to approach the boss and say “Boss, I have a lot of downtime. Is there something else I should be doing? If not, do you mind if I use that time to do a little personal writing as long as it doesn’t interfere with my work?”

      Then at least you know. If the company is paying for your time they really should get the right of first refusal on how it’s used.

      1. Anna

        That sounds too much like asking Mom for permission to go out if your homework is finished. At my former job I was incredibly efficient and got all my work done, and also a lot of outside work. I pretty much ran a volunteer-based non-profit from my cube without it causing any problems with my paying gig. People who don’t know how to manage their time between side projects and their actual assigned duties will be pretty obvious. Because their assigned duties won’t get done. I see no problem with writing a novel during the work hours if her work is getting done. I don’t even see it as an ethical gray area.

        1. A Bug!

          Haha, the “homework” analogy is really funny to me because I was thinking the exact thing, except in agreement with Katie’s point, although not with specific respect to the OP’s situation or the coworker’s.

          And now I think you’re both right. On the one hand, I do think there are times where permission is so implicit as to not require asking. But on the other hand, I also think that there are times when people intentionally avoid asking for permission because they have reason to believe the answer will be “no.”

      2. Elsajeni

        This raises an interesting (to me, at least) question — of course you’re right about running a business from work, but where’s the line between “hobby” and “very small business”? With novel-writing as an example, even if she did start out with the idea that it’d be a money-making venture, the odds of that actually happening were low; it’s exciting that it did work out for her, but it really wasn’t a predictable outcome. A few people have mentioned knitting as a downtime activity that they’d approve of, but I know lots of people who sell their knitted goods online or at craft fairs, and it seems kind of absurd to say, “Well, you can knit a scarf between calls if it’s a gift for somebody, but not if you’re thinking about selling it.”

        Thinking about it, I think we tend to draw the line based on how much it looks like Work — so, knitting, probably okay; taking tech support calls, probably not okay; writing, kind of a grey area.

  18. O

    It also doesn’t mention how long it took to write the novel, for all the OP knows this is something she’s been working on for years (since she doesn’t mention it), and has really just been using her 15 min breaks and lunch breaks to write it, and it’s taken a few years. Or maybe she stays late to work on the novel since she does have small children at home…there really aren’t enough details to really know what the situation was, and if the friend had seen the employee slacking off earlier, and noticed a decline in work that’s when she should have mentioned something, and if she didn’t notice a decline in work, then the friend really knows how to balance her day.

  19. Tiff

    On the one hand – I think it’s totally normal to notice when a co-worker is shirking their responsibilities. I get that. But if you are calling this woman a friend than you should act like one. It’s not a moral dilemma, it’s just a matter of focusing on yourself and letting management do what they get paid to do, which is supervise her productivity.

  20. Steve

    I’m really curious as to what the job is and whether there is legitimate down time where the woman could have been writing (or doing anything else personal). The OP’s morality concern doesn’t seem to be that she was slacking off at work but more that the company should be entitled to some financial interest in something her friend produced at work.

    We also can’t tell whether she was writing during her lunch and/or a couple of 10 minute coffee breaks and/or before or after normal working hours. The OP’s knowledge that her friend wrote 90% of the novel at work seems to have come from her friend confirming she has no time to write outside of the office.

  21. Canuck

    An honest question for the OP:

    Could you describe what your ideal outcome be, if you did tell your company about your friend working on her novel at work?

    In terms of how it would affect your company, your friend, and yourself?

  22. TotesMaGoats

    Doesn’t Allison always say, “How does this impact you doing your job?” If is hasn’t impacted you, then you shouldn’t say anything. It’s possible that your coworker was able to write in such a way that her work product was not impacted. We also don’t know how long it took her to write the book. I can see how over a couple of years there probably wouldn’t be a work impact. If she churned it out in six months, that’s another issue.

    Moral issue aside, be happy for your friend and move along. You do your job to the best of your ability. This probably all seems unfair to you (as someone else mentioned) but the vast majority of life is unfair and there isn’t much you can do about it.

  23. Sunflower

    Like what Allison said, either they allowed her to do other work or they dropped the ball. If you decided to tell your employer, it could end up looking massively bad on you and if it gets around the office, I’m not sure this is worth having a bad thing attached to your name.

    If you are in a similar situation like her and you are having massive downtime at work, start thinking more about how to get out of your job. I’m not promoting job searching at work but spend your time reading articles or brushing up on skills. Try to turn this into a positive for yourself!

    1. Jen RO

      I’m honestly worried that I won’t be able to keep up with AAM in my new job! My current one has tons of downtime (read: I work *maybe* 1 hour a day) and the new one will be much busier.

  24. Apollo Warbucks

    It’s not the correct use of company time to under take a personnel project when you’re on the clock but the time has passed to say anything, it almost seems as though you’re bothered your friend has been published rather than bothered that they’ve been wasting work time.

    I don’t tend to be overly fussed with what others do at work unless it directly impacts me or is something clearly wrong (like property theft) but I don’t think that’s the real issue here

    I hope I’m not talking out of turn but, But it seems you’re unhappy at work, my last job was nothing short of toxic and I was so glad to make a change, a few weeks in no an evening course I got a new job and have been in a much happier environment for the last 5 years.

    I’d love to see an update from you in a few months saying you’ve found a new job that’s more rewarding.

  25. Jill G.

    It doesn’t seem as though the OP’s concern is really whether or not her co-worker shirked her duties but that the company is possibly owed financial compensation for affording the co-worker time to write. I’m hoping the OP comes back to explain that thought process because I don’t quite understand it myself.

    That being said, many positions, including mine, come with the expectation that I’m really being paid to be present in case I am needed and the job duties are not going to take up my full-time. As long as the work is done and I have asked other departments and they don’t need me, then it is legitimate downtime and, yes, even enough to write a full novel. But that sort of thing is between your co-worker and your manager and nobody else.

    1. The IT Manager

      being paid to be present in case I am needed and the job duties are not going to take up my full-time.

      I am so jealous of you. Not that I don’t like my job, but I ma in the exact opposite situation – my job and the way my organization manages its resources means there will almost always be more work than hours in the day and I’ll never have downtime.

      The downtime I do take – just for my own mental health and because someone/I cannot literally work 8 hours straight – always feels like stealing from the organization a bit.

      1. Jill G.

        Don’t be too jealous, although I understand the attraction. I just feel so professionally unchallenged at this point because of the downtime and it’s the main factor in my looking for other jobs.

        1. The IT Manager

          The grass is always greener, isn’t it?

          I understand your situation too, though, being bored is a huge morale killer. If it were the kind of job where I would read books, I would enjoy it, but so few of these situation are. Many of them require “looking busy.”

      2. Smilingswan

        I feel the same way. In every job I’ve ever had, if I have any downtime, I’m given something to fill it. More accounts, etc. Too little work means a layoff is coming!

      3. Jen RO

        I went from a job with a frantic pace, putting out fires all the time, to a job that sounded ideal: no coworkers panicking, I get to set my own pace, chill management… Yet… in a few weeks, I will be going back to previous job. The reasons vary, but one of them is that I’m not doing *anything* right now, I have zero motivation to improve processes or whatever, I’m not learning anything new and I’m bored to tears. The grass was a different shade of green, but not *better*.

        1. Jill G.

          This. I am SO BORED the majority of the time at this position. Being unchallenged makes me completely unmotivated.

  26. Joey

    Eh, I see the dilemma here. You feel your company has been cheated by your friend and you want to know whether or not to speak up.

    I disagree with those that say its not your business. Because in reality that’s what companies preach- treat this company as you would your own. And I agree that that’s the right thing attitude.

    So, yes I understand why you feel like you should speak up.

    But, what you’d really be telling them is that someone is doing such a bad job managing her they didn’t notice she wrote a novel at work. So while they would likely be upset that your friend slacked off enough to write a novel she’s already indicated she’s leaving. And there’s really not much they can do to her once she leaves except for give her a bad reference.

    So I think you’re looking at this wrong. If you’re okay with all of the eyes being on your friends boss then I say go for it. But, just know that you have no idea if you’re company doesn’t care. Maybe they already know, maybe everyone is a high performer and no one will care and they’ll think you’re being vindictive. Maybe they’ll wonder why you’re bringing it up in the first place since she’s leaving. So before you decide to say something think about why you truly want to say something and what outcomes it might lead to. If your intentions are truly in the company’s best interests and you can accept the possible consequences go for it.

    1. Nerdling

      I think this is a good look from the sort-of-other-side. This is very much a situation where you need to consider your motives and the outcome you hope to obtain very carefully prior to saying anything.

    2. Jessa

      There are two issues with this. 1: it’s not evident in the original letter that the writer slacked off at work, and 2: I think the OP’s issue is whether the company would have ownership or copyright of some sort in the writing. Not that they were owed for paying her whilst she wrote, but because she wrote it on their time they own the book, and therefore all or part of the royalties devolve to the company.

      The OP has in no way indicated that the writer was slacking off, or pushing work on anyone else.

    3. Not So NewReader

      Really thought provoking advice here. Yep, OP is pretty much throwing her friend’s boss under the bus. There will be fall out from that. Since it is easier to get rid of lower ranking people this could turn into a discussion of “why did it take you so long”? Boss gets a scolding and OP ends up on a disciplinary procedure or worse.

      This train of thought circles back around to the point Alison is making and I hope OP sees it. Alison is giving OP the advice OP needs to stay employed.

      It could be that OP has a thousand stories of unfairness inside the company. The coworker’s book is not the hill to die on- it will not resolve other examples of unfairness in the company. If indeed there are repeated examples of unfairness the solution for that is for OP to move on. Find something else.

  27. Annie O

    Why would the OP tell the supervisor now? What could possibly be gained? I can’t think of one positive for the OP, not one.

    If the co-worker’s writing on the job negatively affected the OP or the biz, the OP should have spoken up a long time ago. Now, the cows have left the barn. It’s too late for the supervisor to address the problem and any tattle-telling is going to be sour grapes.

  28. Celeste

    I’m wondering if the OP is younger than the friend, and just doesn’t know a lot about how things work. Many workplaces, including mine, will allow you to use downtime to work on homework/papers for classes you are taking even if the degree won’t be used in the workplace. When you eventually get your degree/certification, they don’t get a percentage of your earnings at whatever job you ascend to, either within or outside the office. It just doesn’t work that way.

    Maybe all that you really need to do to soothe your “moral discomfort” here is to have a talk with your supervisor about what you might be allowed to do with your own downtime. It sounds like you aren’t happy there, and maybe you have a benefit you don’t know about.

    Finally, even if your coworker is already gone, I would really resist the temptation to tell your supervisor that you don’t think he adequately supervised her if she was able to write a book on company time. The one getting the scrutiny in the aftermath might be you.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit

      This is my own complaint, and not The Rule of the Land, but I’d love to see us as a community lay off on the “OP sounds so young!” thing. Truly, what’s the value in saying that? The comment stands on it’s own without it.

      1. Joey

        I think people are hoping to chalk up bad decisions to naïveté hoping that experienced people generally try to do the right thing.

      2. Celeste

        Sincere question: what do you hear when somebody says “young”? And would it be less aggravating to hear inexperienced? New? Or something else? My experience is that young people very often do not a good understanding of how things work until later.

      3. Jamie

        I think the reason people speculate on that is because there are a lot of times we’d cut more slack to someone if they are new to the workforce.

        Personally I expect someone who’s got a decade or two of work experience under their belt to understand how things work, as opposed to someone with little real world experience who might still be figuring this stuff out.

      4. Victoria Nonprofit

        Replying to myself here rather than everyone individually.

        I generally see commenters say “The OP sounds young” as a pejorative; it’s a way to express some indignation with the OP’s behavior or intention. I actually don’t think Celeste’s comment falls into that category; it’s just a thing that rubs me the wrong way.

        1. majigail

          It typically bothers me too, and it does in this case too. When I read the question, I could see it coming out of a near retirement age worker I know.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          For what it’s worth, I think it’s often meant as more of a kindness than as an expression of indignation — as in, “This stuff isn’t always clear when you’re first starting out.”

        3. S.K.

          I usually take this to be an attempt at giving the OP an “out” – basically saying “You’re being unreasonable, and I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt that it’s due to not knowing better yet.”

          It’s pleasantly optimistic to assume that all dumb letter-writers are people who are young enough to change their ways. I think the reality would probably be too depressing.

  29. LBK

    Trying not to pile on here, and this has been semi-addressed above, but I have to ask: OP, is the financial loss to the company really the reason this concerns you? That’s a very odd way for the letter to be framed. Assuming that’s genuinely your reason for wanting to report this and not jealousy that she’s getting out of the job or frustration that she spent time doing personal things at work as others have suggested, why is your priority the potential financial loss to the company? Is it just something you feel is right to report, like if she were stealing?

    I’m not clear on why you would report this to the company after the fact, once it’s all said and done, rather than when you first realized she was writing on company time (and also why you would say something to the company before mentioning it to your coworker).

  30. Stephanie

    A friend of mine had a job where he legitimately had so little work that he could have written a novel on the clock.

    This might backfire in that you’ll look like a tattletale (and overly concerned with another coworker’s habits) or that you didn’t tell TPTB sooner. It’s not worth the potential fallout. Just wish your coworker best of luck. Plus, if she’s going to try and write full-time, she’s got a long slog ahead of her that might not be any more pleasant that the “boring job.”

    1. Stephanie

      Also, maybe you could take her success as motivation to get out the job? If she can do it, take that as a sign that there’s a light out the TPS Report Tunnel.

      1. Apollo Warbucks

        Not that I’m cynical but in my experience the light at the end of the tunnel is normally an on coming train

  31. Lily in NYC

    Unless your coworker is an air-traffic controller or 911 dispatcher, then just keep quiet and be happy for her.

    1. Brett

      Surprisingly, 911 dispatchers (especially fire) would actually easily have enough time to write a novel on the clock. It is actually a bit of a problem that dispatchers go through really really boring stretches (and find ways to amuse themselves).

      1. Ali

        My friend’s husband is a 911 dispatcher, and she said at his workplace, they have a big screen where they watch movies and TV during downtime. She’s mentioned other activities too like holiday parties and things that could go on in any workplace. But the big screen thing stood out to me.

        I once worked at a call center where they wouldn’t allow us to do ANYTHING on our downtime except read up on client policies/products in our Wikis and check e-mails. We got in trouble for reading books, playing Solitaire and other such things. I was actually glad when I got laid off!

          1. Jessa

            If you worked overnight like I did or were a late closer in a company that was not 24 hours, you could. I worked 11pm to 9 am as a shift manager at an answering service. Also 3:30pm to 2am at a call centre. After a certain hour the call volume dropped a LOT. So there are downtimes.

        1. Elikit

          Same – I worked a switchboard with several other women, and since our area had glass walls and was facing onto a hallway, some higher ups had made complaints about it “not looking like they were working” so even though there could be lots of downtime between calls, we were forbidden from reading books. And we didn’t have internet access. I stopped temping there after a while. Their loss!

      2. Chinook

        I was just going to say that 911 operators and air traffic controllers are the perfect examples of engaged to wait. If you are in a remote enough place,they would need you to be there for the once or twice a day you are needed. Even as a cop, DH was known to come home and play video games for a couple of hours at 2 am on a Monday night because, as long as he was dressed with his radio on and patrol car ready, it really didn’t matter where he was.

  32. The IT Manager

    I agree there’s something a bit off by this letter. I think there is jealously and feeling of unfairness, but it seems from my POV that the LW is going in an oddly vindictive direction. “Does friend owe company some of the windfall because she wrote it on company time?” I think that’s an odd question to ask. I think that’s fairly obviously “no” for the reasons Alison mentioned.

    “Should she be reported for spending all this time at work writing a novel?” That’s the question I would have expected. And I do think it is entirely possible that the LW didn’t know how friend was spending her time until she heard about the windfall of book being published because writing and editting a novel will look like wirting and editting work related documents unless there’s very close scrutiny. But again we come around to the fact that if the friend were getting her work done then why does LW and company care?

    Is it “fair” that she spent all this time writing and presumably editting a novel length work at work? That depends. For a peer of mine that would be a huge problem because we all have more work than time and they’d have to be slacking big time to manage this, but since the LW doesn’t go there I tend to think they may be one of those jobs with a lot of downtime.

    The big question is, how is this imapcting you, LW? If it is making more work for you, then you should report it. If it is making you terribly jealous because you wish you could leave too then you should start job hunting to find something more fulfilling because it sounds like you there’s a lot of free time in your job for extraciricular activities. If your job involves a lot of time of waiting for something to happen, then you should at least try to fill it with something you find is productive.

  33. AB

    I once had a boss that encouraged me to write on company time. There was a lot of down time, but they needed to have someone in that position full time because when they needed someone, they needed them right away and needed them to be “on” right away. The boss encouraged writing because then if anyone walked by, at least it would look like I was busy typing away at work.

  34. AAA

    I have two jobs. Three days a week I’m in an office all day (7am-5pm); the other two days I am on a college campus all day and teach two classes. During my students’ busy periods (e.g. right before papers are due) I answer student emails and even read and comment on student drafts of papers from my “office” job. That said I also answer my “office” emails from my academic job. I suppose I’m technically stealing time from both of my employers, but I really think that, on balance, it evens itself out. Also, I while I certainly am attentive to my students when I’m at my other job, I definitely put that job first and only work on my academic job at times when there isn’t much going on at the office. (And vice versa).

  35. Stephanie

    I wonder if OP’s confusing patent law with copyright law. Patent law, usually the company does own some stake in the invention if it was created on company time or with company resources.

    1. Karyn

      I work for patent and trademark attorneys, and you would be SHOCKED at how many people interchange patent/trademark/copyright until I have to explain it to them… I often wondered, before I took this job, why IP litigation assistants got paid so much… now I know!

      1. Stephanie

        Yup. A friend and I were at a bar and the bartender overheard I used to work in patents. He then asked me if I had any advice on how he could copyright a graphic novel. I didn’t want to brush him off completely, so I took his email and sent him the Library of Congress’ primer on copyright.

        1. Karyn

          Well, I know that I do! In my area of the country, IP legal assistants make $45k-$60k a year which is quite comfortable for where I live. Plus I find the work much, much less taxing than regular legal work. I should note that most of what I do involves the USPTO, applications, office actions, etc., and not a ton of actual litigation, though.

    2. Anonsie

      Yeah, when I first read it my assumption was that the OP is afraid that the company technically “owns” the novel and is afraid to let it go, lest it come back in a “she knew but didn’t say anything so she’s complicit in this crime” type of way.

      It’s kind of a weird idea, but that was the feeling I got– not the resentment everyone else is speaking to.

    3. Tinker

      I think companies can also have IP agreements regarding the copyright of things created with company resources — my former employer was this way, for instance. It seems like I read somewhere that companies were moving away from doing this, partly because a gigantic telecom solutions company going after ownership of the next Fifty Shades of Gray does not pass the giggle test.

      It does seem likely to me that the OP is aware of an agreement with a clause like that which seems to apply to the novel in question, more so than they got this idea out of thin air, and I can see how a person could feel torn based on a need to abide by the letter of the law.

      I can’t argue with that; I once pushed up to the VP level (and, not a small company) a request for me to work on a silly little database project with an old friend — the process took a month or so and involved a lot of debating over what license the thing would be released under and other irrelevant details, and I got permission to do it just before the project was obsoleted by events. But that was what I agreed to, so that was what I tried to do.

      In any case, whether it’s an agreement or a misunderstanding of patent law — or a misunderstanding of an agreement — it seems to me likely that the OP came to the conclusion that they did in good faith, if perhaps not very practical faith.

      1. Judy

        Our company has an agreement like that, and we lost a good possible employee because of it. He had worked as a contract engineer for 2 years, and they had gotten permission to hire him. It was good to go until they gave him the agreement.

        They wouldn’t allow him to scratch out that line, told him to just ignore it, it didn’t matter. Problem was his other job was in a reserve role for the armed forces, and he wrote software in that job too. Not like CompanyX can own the US government’s software, can it? But due to their unwillingness to modify that sentence in the IP & NonDisclosure agreement, we lost a good worker. (And of course his unwillingness to ignore it, because of his honor as an officer.)

  36. Brett

    What I find interesting here is that the company had a person on staff with the talent to write full-time for a living, and apparently did nothing with it?

    1. LBK

      I can sing and play 5 instruments, that doesn’t mean my employer is squandering my talents by not having me give a live performance every day after lunch. I took the job I took, it’s not up to my employer to find ways to utilize my other skills that aren’t relevant to the position I signed on for. And furthermore, some people don’t like using their other talents at work because it turns something fun and creative into a chore.

      1. Colette

        And being able to write a novel is not the same as being able to write technical documentation or marketing text or press releases.

        1. Jamie

          Absolutely! Back in school when I had to write fiction it was almost impossible for me for the weirdest reason.

          I had the stories which were interesting enough to me, and I’m okay at throwing worlds together but I couldn’t do it because fiction felt so personal. In the weirdest way letting someone read a piece of fiction I wrote was more intimate an act than letting someone read my most personal journal.

          And I don’t mean anything intimate in nature – this goes back from early grade school through college…it just feels like what I make up is too much of a window into who I am. What I truly want, how I see things.

          I always felt way more exposed than sharing deeply personal and even painful details of my real life in writing.

          I always thought that was really odd and don’t know where that comes from in me. Just like how you know when you’re just daydreaming, or driving along and have a whole inner dialogue going with some made up story that’s all in your head and you’re happy as a clam because you can’t wait to see what happens next? Then someone asks what you’re thinking.

          I hate that. They don’t mean to, but it feels so intrusive and like I was caught doing something weird playing my stories in my head.

          Please tell me I’m not the only one who does that, because my self image hangs on this not being a weird potoo of things only I do.

          1. Jamie

            I’m okay at throwing worlds together

            That should be “words” not “worlds.” I am not yet omnipotent to worlds are safe. for the time being.

          2. Jillociraptor

            Nope, I totally feel that way! I was actually an avid fiction writer when I was younger, but I NEVER shared anything I wrote. Fiction writing was always more revelatory to me than recounting and exploring my own experiences, and it felt intensely personal to me to ever share it. The fear felt like someone would be able to figure out something about me that I hadn’t figured out about myself yet, and that kind of vulnerability was really uncomfortable.

          3. MeganO

            1) Jamie, you are WAY better than ok at “throwing words together.” Just my $0.02
            2) I don’t necessarily feel this way about writing, but I make up stories/have kind of conversations with fictional characters in my head (and I’m feeling weird admitting this anonymously online!) and I feel like such.a.weirdo. But I can’t help it! I’ve done it ever since I was a kid; now I just try to keep a lid on it so people don’t find out and back away from me slowly…

            1. Cath in Canada

              re: point 2: I also make up stories about fictional characters in my head! I thought I was really weird because I remember mentioning it to some friends when I was a kid and none of them did it, but through the miracle that is the internet I now have plenty of writer friends who admit to the same thing. And I’m not a fiction writer at all – I’ve had one fictional short story published, but that was very much a one-off. Most of the writing I do is decidedly non-fictional science blogging.

            2. Stephanie

              I do number 2 as well! You’re not alone. And I don’t even dabble in fiction writing. I think I just have an overactive imagination at times.

            3. Smilingswan

              I do this too! And of course, I Mary Sue myself right into the story. (Can I use Mary Sue as a verb?) I’ve been doing it for years, since I was a kid. It helps me through my commute, and falling asleep at night.

            4. Fee

              I rehearse dialogues with (or between) characters in my head (and, eek, sometimes out loud when I’m alone) all the time; yet it is almost physically painful for me to transfer that creative process to paper.

              After years of being told ‘you should be a writer’ I eventually went to a great class for about a year; the outcome of which was that I realised, no, I shouldn’t be a writer. I just didn’t have that driving force I could see in other (better) writers in the class had. It was actually such a painful process to let go of what I had assumed was my dream and I really did go through a bit of a mourning period!

              Ironically what made me realise I had actually come to terms with it was that one of my best friends and former colleagues (in a massively toxic workplace, which I have since left) sold her novel. Whereas a few years previously I would have felt envy and guilt (“I should be writing too”), I felt nothing but pride. It was extremely liberating to be OK with the fact that as a novelist, I make a pretty good technical writer :)

              1. Heather

                Yes, yes, yes!

                it is almost physically painful for me to transfer that creative process to paper

                In my head, I sort of narrate things as they’re happening as if people were characters in a book. But I can’t make it go any further than that and I can only do it based on what is happening already. I’m TERRIBLE at making up stories. I can’t even fill in what someone else has started. I never see totally predictable & formulaic plot twists coming, even though in hindsight they’re obvious.

                Once I did some sessions with a life-slash-career coach because I had no idea what to do with my life. She had me do an exercise where I pictured my 20-years-from-now self and talked to her about what she’d been doing all that time. Well…maybe she has clients who are worse at that than I was, but there can’t be too many.

                I think my brain is set on “receive-only” for that kind of thing, no output option. (Gee, who doesn’t want to have their mind work like a song about heroin addiction? “I’m programmed to receive, so I can check out any time I like, but I can never leave?”)

                I remember reading an anecdote in some writing book about a woman who figured out that she didn’t want to write novels, she wanted to have written a novel. That was when the lightbulb started to go on.

                And more YES to this:

                it was actually such a painful process to let go of what I had assumed was my dream and I really did go through a bit of a mourning period

                I finally figured out that editing other people’s writing is what I’m really good at. It was sooo hard to accept that and mentally change my identity from “writer” to “editor.” But once I adusted, I was so much happier…I guess not feeling like you’re failing at what you’re “supposed” to be doing will do that for you :)

          4. Tinker

            Oh, crikey, so much this.

            I’ve got this story bouncing around in my head and… seriously, it gets to be really revealing. Not about “intimate” things — it doesn’t involve an inordinate amount of that, actually, and also that’s something that I’m generally not bothered by discussing, often times.

            But it’s these little personal things — like, a lot of it is drawing on places that I’ve lived or have a longstanding relationship with for flavor, and when it gets to the level of flavor elements then it’s dependent on what I think is interesting, or my emotional reaction to the place… and then I think “Oh no, you’re writing bad fanfic except now it’s your old office building that’s the headquarters for the folks who are trying to clear I-25 of zombies instead of Bob the Planeteer for the newly discovered sixth classical element that is cooler than the other five by far… and at least Bob isn’t revealing stuff about your actual life, like that you’re a horrible wanker who puts undue sentimental value on things like letters on mountains or that odd little place on that obscure road to a ski area in northern New Mexico… oh all applicable deities the humiliation… never speak of this to anyone… ever…” etc.

            And then, yeah, someone asks why I’m smiling and I cannot possibly answer “Because my former pastor, in transparent disguise, is running the picturesque church in the mountains that serves as a local focus for rebuilding the post-zombie community, and he has just offered to marry my two main characters, and then there’s going to be a bit about how they also each have valued roles to play vis a vis killing zombies and shit, and there are bro-hugs involved somewhere.” So I tell them I was thinking about my bike, or sandwiches, or test cases or something, and then they look at me funny. They would look at me even funnier if they knew.

            1. Cath in Canada

              That’s so interesting! I would have guessed the opposite – that when there are no real people around to talk to, it would be the extroverts who’d start making up imaginary ones :)

        2. Jen RO

          It’s the other way around for me: I can write technical documentation and even marketing stuff in a pinch, but I couldn’t write fiction if my life depended on it.

    2. Ruffingit

      Writing is not a one-size fits all thing though. People who are good at novel writing aren’t necessarily good at technical or report writing for example. Entirely different movies of the same genre as it were so it could be that her writing skills were not at all useful at work.

    3. Jennifer

      Most businesses aren’t looking for fiction writers. Or much of any writers. And businesses that supposedly specialize in writers like journalism are flushing down the toilet.

      (says the ex-professional writer whose skills are used at work a handful of times a year)

      1. Jamie

        I don’t know – I’ve gotten some fictional numbers sent to me in my day – not even trying to be based on a true story. :)

        ITA – fiction in the workplace isn’t a real need most places.

  37. Elizabeth West

    Novelist here.

    First, #jelly because I want that to happen to me! (It could; it could. Anything can happen–the world is a magical place.)

    Second, I agree with everyone else; it’s too late to say anything now, and it’s not really any of the OP’s concern. If the coworker were slacking off, somebody probably would have noticed already. If they didn’t manage it at the time, too bad, because she’s leaving. They really don’t have any financial stake in it unless there was some kind of agreement that everything she did at work, even unrelated, belongs to them. And unless it affected the OP’s work directly, it’s not her problem.

    Third, it’s totally possible to write a novel at work in small increments of time. In addition to what I do at home, I usually write on my lunch hour. I wrote most of my bank robber novel working really hard for an hour a day at lunch. If it was going well that day, I could bang out a whole chapter. If Coworker can’t write at home, maybe that’s what she did.

    1. Ruffingit

      Yeah, that’s my feeling too. Many people feel writing is done in a dank basement for hours at a time. Not so. Some people can bang out a chapter or two over a lunch hour, can add a paragraph of two during a 15-minute break and so on. Could be she used time that would not have been devoted to the company anyway.

  38. Ruffingit

    If you found out your friend was doing random things while on the clock (Facebook, talking to mom on the phone, etc.) as opposed to writing a marketable novel, would you tell your employer? If not, then don’t do it here. Personally, if a co-worker of mine was goofing off at work, I would not take an interest in that unless it affected me directly as in they are not doing their part of a project that I have to handle because they are goofing off. Otherwise, it’s between them and their manager. If their manager doesn’t care and hasn’t said anything, then so be it.

    If you take out the part where co-worker has potential to make huge money, then it becomes more clear in my eyes. I would not tell a manager that a co-worker was Facebooking all day. What would that conversation look like “Hey manager, co-worker is on Facebook all the time, just thought you should know…” That seems more like tattling to me if it doesn’t affect you.

    TL:DR – Keep your mouth closed and open it only to congratulate your co-worker on her success.

  39. Claire MKE

    Agreed with everyone else, but I’m also not sure what kind of “financial interest” you think the company could have in the book. Do you think she should have to give them her advance? A percentage of the royalties? If she’s quitting, then she can’t be fired for not complying so…what, you think they should sue her for it? I guess I don’t know what you think would happen if you told them that she wrote it on company time apart from them potentially being irritated.

  40. Jeanne

    I see it this way. If the OP tells the company, the coworker might be fired. But she thinks her friend is going to quit anyway. So either way the coworker is gone and not harming the company.

    The other thing might be confusion over intellectual copyright which AAM addressed. Even if the book makes 100 million dollars, even if she wrote it all on company time without doing any assigned work, the company has no rights to that money. This is not like patents developed at work.

    Next it’s the benefit/loss to the OP from reporting it. Would she be looked at as a stellar employee or as an annoying pest? Does she think management would care? She has to think it through carefully, knowing her boss, and decide if it’s worth it. IMO, it’s not going to be a good situation. She should drop it. Maybe if she supports her friend, she can eventually spend her summers in the friend’s new pool.

    1. Graciosa

      Can we not make assumptions about the absence of written agreements regarding copyright? Or about how the novelist wrote the novel? All of these things make a difference.

      A lot of confidentiality and IP agreements which are part of required onboarding at many (but not all) companies would give the company the copyright if certain conditions are met. These can include not only work done in the course of employment, but also work done using company resources (for example, if she typed it into her work computer) or work in the employer’s field of practice (which probably isn’t publishing, but again, that’s only an assumption). A previous commenter was requested to keep typing (even her novel) to appear busy – her employer would be able to argue that this was done to further the business of the employer and therefore meets the requirements for a work made for hire.

      There are circumstances where yes, the company gets the $100M. If it made that much, someone would probably get curious enough to do a little digging.

      I struggled a bit with reading the comments to the original post, as there’s a part of me that suspects (although I don’t know) that the novelist was not as careful as I am about making sure that my employer does not acquire any rights to works of fiction I create as a hobby. I travel with two computers (mine and my employer’s) on business, buy personal note pads in a different color from that available at work to distinguish handwritten notes (and avoid using my employer’s paper), and take many other steps to ensure that I will always be absolutely confident my employer won’t have any legal interest in the product of my hobby. I know and adhere to the terms to which I agreed when I became an employee.

      But like I said, I suspect that not everyone is that diligent.

      I can see an argument for the OP not interjecting himself or herself into a situation where the full information is not available, and he or she is not in a position to truly assess it. I am a little disturbed by many other comments (not yours, Jeanne) which seem to focus on the employer deserving what it gets for failing to do a better job managing – but I think we need to conduct ourselves with the same level of integrity regardless of how well others are monitoring us.

      However, I am going to take my own advice and try not to assume that the novelist behaved in any way other than honorably.

      1. Jeanne

        In my jobs (science), i’ve never signed anything that would give my company any rights to anything I did that was non-work. I only ever signed a keep everything secret paper. But you are right, assumptions can be dangerous. It would have been nice if the OP gave us a few more details.

  41. Biff

    I get the impression that the two women potentially work in an industry that is connected to the publishing industry. If that’s the case, it’s possible that the company would be very interested in knowing that the book was written on company time. If it’s the case that this woman wrote creatively for their company and she wrote this novel on the sly, as it were, and now it’s a good idea, there really could be a nasty conflict of interest going on here and the company might own that book.

    If they don’t then it comes back down to was she sloughing on the job to finish the book or not. Which I guess I don’t really care about, because if she was that’s management’s problem, no the coworker’s problem. BUT, if they do work for the entertainment industry, even in a peripherial way, I can see that the coworker that wrote the book might actually be stealing, and the coworker that knows about it, but has said nothing could be in trouble should someone find out that she knew and said nothing.

    I guess my answer would be: if you work in an industry where there is a notable conflict of interest, blow the whistle. If you don’t, shut up, smile and buy your friend a couple of congratulatory drinks.

    1. Chris

      Sorry, but the company DOES NOT own the book. Work-for-hire only applies to work done at the behest of the company

      1. Biff

        That really depends on WHERE you are and WHAT you did (or didn’t) sign. I work for Big Business Tech Solutions. Say I write a basic guide Testing Big Business Tech Solutions After Standard Installation in my ‘spare’ time on the job. Because of what I signed and where I live, I couldn’t go over to Enterprise Business Tech Solutions with that guide, even if it wasn’t company-specific. Unless of course, as what happened with me, they didn’t like my guide. Then it’s mine. But they have the first rights to it, at least in my business.

        Similarly, if she works for “Creative Engines Ghostwriting and Copy”, then this could be a breech of contract depending on where she is and what she did or didn’t sign.

        1. Rayner

          The OP suggests that this was a novel, as in a work of fiction. That means it doesn’t relate at all to the company, and therefore, they have no right to it. It doesn’t matter if they wrote it in a board meeting, the company owns no right to it at all. They can discipline the employee for not using her time correctly (i.e. at work, no personal projects) but they do not own any part, page, sentence, or even one full stop of that novel.

          Likewise, if you did write a manual for your job, they wouldn’t have first dibs on it because you wrote it while at work. They would have first dibs on it because of the information in the text – proprietary information on procedures, technology, and equipment. It wouldn’t matter if you wrote it on the moon, if you tried to get that past your company and into a publishing house, that’s where the lawyers would step in.

  42. Artemesia

    I can hardly imagine a situation where MYOB applies more. The OP is not saying that her own work is being impacted; if she were having to pick up all the slack then AT THE TIME she should have done something about it. But just a ‘sense of justice’ — no way. Telling on other people when it doesn’t affect you is fundamentally malicious. And of course it is quite possible that she will destroy her own reputation if she tries to destroy her ‘friend.’

  43. Terra

    Ah… imagine if said novel was of the “Devil Wears Prada” variety, ABOUT the workplace of OP!

  44. Chris

    A few things
    1. I dislike the idea that employers are paying you for time. They are not. They are paying you for WORK. Sometimes that work involves being in a particular place, but not necessarily working on a project. Maybe all her work was done. Maybe she was waiting for a colleague to complete something else. Maybe anything. If she was getting her work done (and not impacting you), who cares? And the time to bring that up was THEN, not now.

    2. Don’t be snitching. Ok, sure, if there are true moral or ethical violations, or criminal activity, absolutely. Or at least, it’s a tougher question. But this is a friend who did something awesome. Why are you more worried about your employer getting a cut of the cash, and not being happy for your friend? You get nothing out of this! I would never, ever tattle on a friend to my boss just because I saw them doing something not work-related. Heck, I wouldn’t tattle on an ENEMY. It’s just not cool.

  45. Late to the party

    There’s a relationship term for it. It’s called asymmetry (like complementary) in relationships and is healthier than expecting everything to be even steven all the time. So learn the lesson, move along and be glad that it sounds like your co-worker will be moving on soon from your workplace.

    But yeah, I’ve been a contractor who’s had to pick up major slack for full-timer/permanent employees who majorly abused the time off policy, “stole time” by not working when on the job.

    I recall one permanent employee always missed work and was barely “there” when her butt was in the office chair. She had a bad prescription drug habit, which made my job harder, because I had to proofread her awful writing. It meant I had to copy edit, re-write and then proofread to get deadlines met. She got clean, but still has a job there.I got cut when the economy tanked No reward other than, oh yeah — getting paid.

  46. BCW

    My biggest problem is that you refer to her as a friend. Sorry, but if this is how you treat friends, then I don’t really think you know the definition of it. Maybe she is more a “work acquaintance that you don’t mind being around”. If she was really your friend, you wouldn’t even consider tattling on her just to get her in trouble (and possibly lose money!). Its not abnormal to feel jealous of someone, but its how you react to those feelings that really shows your character.

    1. Jessa

      BCW you have a point, nowhere in the letter does the OP remotely consider actually talking to the friend first. I mean if it’s not just being somewhat jealous, wouldn’t you go to your friend with “you know you might get in trouble if this turns out to be the next big thing, the company, yadda, yadda.” And then the friend gets to respond instead of being thrown under the proverbial bus. Especially if that bus heads to “company knows, as long as I do my work, they don’t care.” Because really if the company DOES know, it’s not going to paint the OP in a good place being a tell tale.

  47. KaseyMack

    I haven’t read through all of the responses yet, but I just wanted to say that I actually lived this from the perspective of the writer who ultimately made a book sale that allowed me to quit my “day job” in that I wrote things occasionally while at work — but only AFTER I had searched high and low for work from many other people. At that point, I had the choice of surfing on the Internet all day (which after awhile will drive a person INSANE!) or doing something more productive.

    One other difference is that the book which actually sold to a publisher was written 100% off company time — but that’s because by then I had switched to another position where I had plenty of work and no extensive hours of time to fill after already begging people for work with no response.

    I guess my point being that I don’t think you should insert yourself into the relations between your friend and your boss for many reasons; but this is especially true if you have no way of knowing your friend’s workload or how many efforts she made to get other work BEFORE writing the book.

  48. Not So NewReader

    “Time Stealing”. I would encourage OP to look at the group think of her industry/arena.

    In retailing if you are not doing three tasks at the same time then you are a slacker who is stealing time from the company. This is worse than if you committed murder, judging by the reaction of some managers.

    Some arenas just do not think this way at all. Ever. My father was a designer. If his boss walked by and saw my father settled back in his chair, feet up on his desk and staring at the ceiling, the boss assumed my father was thinking/designing in his head.
    haha- try doing that in retail and see what happens next.

    Try not to cross one value system over into another industry/field. You will end up really confused and bewildered by it all. If a company that you work for says X behavior is okay by us, just roll with the flow. If you insist on Y behavior instead, you will have many headaches.

  49. My Scintillating Pseudonym

    I’d be curious to know how a first-time writer is being given enough money to quit her job and write full time. I have a friend whose novel was on the NYT bestseller list a few years ago. She didn’t get to quit work; the money just wasn’t that good (especially when you factor in taxes and publishers’ and agents’ fees). She also had to pay out of pocket for almost all her travel expenses on the required tours. Then, when the book isn’t on the list anymore, sales go way down and you have to keep writing to sustain the income, but there’s no guarantee that future books will be successful. Sometimes it’s a one-trick pony. The coworker might be in for a rude shock in a year or two when the money dries up.

    1. Jeanne

      Maybe because she’s so new to the author world, she just assumes that the money will be incredible and is bragging about it. I’ve never been an author. Thanks for the info.

    2. PJ

      It’s hard to judge another’s finances. If she’s married and her spouse works, for instance, it may be that they can get by comfortably with a smaller financial contribution from her. Or they may already be living successfully on one income, and the money from her writing can be viewed as a bonus.

    3. Artemesia

      I know a well published pop author second hand — she is a good friend of my best friend — that woman is enormously successful and has published a couple of dozen well regarded mystery/police procedurals but it was years before it really made much of an impact on their standard of living. She was able to do things like ‘add a carport to the house’ or ‘take a vacation to Hawaii’ in the early years even with great sales.

      My own book is research based and while a best seller in the tiniest niche in the field, it has meant maybe 40K split between me and my co-author. I made 5 or 6 thou for a few years and then now it regularly returns about $500 a year. First novels unless one is super lucky rarely produced that much income.

  50. O'Bunny

    There’s a fairly famous anecdote about a science fiction author who wrote his (first?) novel while working on a mechanical assembly line.

    Apparently he kept a pad and pencil at his station and wrote the novel, longhand, a word at a time between items appearing at his station. I can’t imagine…

  51. Ed

    I agree that it is the employer’s problem to know if she is not doing her job and OP should not get involved. But this kind of stuff does tick me off. I’ve had several co-workers over the years that had side businesses, usually IT customers on the side and flipping houses (pre-recession). The company and their co-workers always got screwed to an extent. You can’t control when one of your small business customers has an emergency or there is a permit problem with a house that requires you to deal with it during work hours. The worst example I’ve seen was an elementary school teacher selling real estate on the side who would give his class BS work to keep them busy so he could step out to return phone calls. It’s not your company’s job to bankroll you while you try to get rich.

    1. Artemesia

      As with most problems in the workplace these are examples of bad management. It is only the business of the co-worker if evil is being done or if it is impinges on their own work.

      In the case of the teacher, evil is being done. If a worker were endangering others because they weren’t checking the reactor core while they read their novel, that would be everyone’s business. If the OP had to pick up all the slack, that is a time to complain — but while it is happening not just when the novel is purchased.

      Otherwise, it is the manager’s job not the co-workers.

  52. Margot

    My two cents here. While working full time jobs, I’ve completed the majority of my coursework for 2 graduate degrees, written a technical book, and written multiple essays and presentations. I prioritized work from my job, but often, as in many positions, there can be a lot of down time. Depending on your industry, your time management skills, and your will power you can get a lot done within 9 to 5. I’m sure the novelist was able to perform her regularly duties well, and worked on the novel in the snatches of time we all encounter (10 before a meeting there, 20 minutes here, an afternoon before a holiday there, etc.) I feel that if you are a competent worker who is on top of her duties, then whatever way you use your time is up to you.

  53. Jill

    I think the answer to OP’s question goes back to a theme from other answers on this blog: OP should ask herself to what extent does this situation affect OP’s ability to get her own work done.

    Because, on the question of “fair,” I worked with a gal that had the same job title, same duties, and same rate of pay as me. I spent my time working. She spent most of the day on the phone, took endless breaks, wandered the building, etc. Eventually I was told we’d have to work overtime (unpaid since we were salaried) since the project wasn’t getting done. So I spoke up – no way was my free time going to be chipped away at because she spent all day gabbing while I spent all day working!

    If this is not OP’s situation, then let it go. But if Novelist’s side project DOES affect OP’s ability to get work done properly and timely, then OP should speak up.

  54. Collarbone High

    Amusing story time: At my first newspaper job, the features editor was secretly writing a novel at work. She stored it in a folder that anyone could access, so if you’ve ever seen a sitcom, you can predict what happened: Someone stumbled on it, and it didn’t stay secret for long.

    The discovery tipped off management to two things: she was forcing her underpaid assistant to do all her work, and she was actually a terrible writer whose clips had all been rewritten by her previous editor. She was fired.

  55. glennis

    I’m living here in LA, and I remember once going into the real estate office of a large organization, to carry out some task about a lease. As I approached the reception desk, I could clearly see that the receptionist had a screenplay open on her computer screen. Seems like everyone in LA is an aspiring screenwriter!!

    I’ve worked a long career as a backstage technician, where reading, watching TV or playing cards between cues is pretty standard.

    However, I’ve also worked in offices where reading books during down time at my desk was simply not allowed!

    I think another aspect of this issue has to do with the tools involved. It doesn’t seem to me that the novelist’s employer has any right to the intellectual property of her novel, but presumably she didn’t write it in longhand on notepads she brought from home – if she used her employer’s computer to write it, she used their resources. It’s pretty difficult to calculate the “value” of that, but some employers have clear written policies about use of company resources.

  56. Illya

    The real problem isn’t some sort of “claim” on the work that the company might have, but that the company paid her for work that was never performed, because she was writing her book while she should’ve been doing actual work.

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