Friday, June 08, 2007

Meet and Sing

Three-fourths of the Coven (the Editrix, Ethyl, and MartiniMistress) had a meeting with the president yesterday. MartiniMistress and the Editrix felt somewhat empowered by the prez, who at one point, God bless him, told us that we were free to tell MAN "to fuck off" if he was being ridiculous about something. Which, with MAN, pretty much means all the time. Praise!

Hence, this anthem for our weekly meeting:

to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldier"

Onward, Coven members, marching as to war
With the Snarky banner, going on before
Fuck off! is our mantra, use against the MAN
Forward into meeting, see the clueless die

Onward, Coven members, marching as to war
With the Snarky banner, going on before

Blondie added this gem (edited slightly to protect someone or another):

At the sign of Mary, Livin' on a Prayer
Run then, Coven members, lest she touch your hair
Hell's foundations quiver, she pesters us for days
Sisters, move her office, maybe then we'll get a raise

Onward, Coven members, marching as to war
With the Snarky banner, going on before

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Conquer this, buddy

As always, it's moronic corporate use of words that drives the Editrix over the edge. Today's entry: to conquest.

According to the WSJ, the new fad in online marketing is to place ads for your product next to editorial about a competitor's product. Interesting. Aggressive. In-your-face. A guerilla tactic. But what is the word used to describe this? Conquesting.

It's the combination of two things that, combined, really yanks the Editrix's chain. First, there's the misuse of a verbified noun, when there is a perfectly serviceable verb available, conquer. Adding insult is the whole testosterone-laden maneuver of placing the ads in locations for nothing more than twisting a nose. It is nothing more sophisticated than a dog peeing on a bush.

Here's my prediction: this fad will not last a year. Companies are going to start writing into their ad contracts prohibitions about the content provider placing competitors' ads near mentions of their products. So let's see, who will profit from this pathetically named trend? That's right, the lawyers. Oh, how the Editrix weeps with joy at the societal benefit.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sad but Searing

This recent story from the Nashville Scene makes the Editrix sad, very sad. To summarize, Gannett is making a ton of money off the Tennessean, which is a boring, very thin paper. How is it doing that? In part, by not trying to hire anything close to the best and the brightest. And, it has become a really brilliant financial strategy:

The true crime of the corporate takeover of the American newsroom is in instituting a culture where smart people do not wish to work. Or so we’d like to believe.

The problem with this logic, as you well know, is that it is utter rot. From a financial standpoint, anyway, it doesn’t appear to have a downside. There’s simply no evidence that putting out a quality news product will produce more revenues or profits for the parent company—at least not anymore. In fact, a careful analysis of the 13 largest publicly traded newspaper companies today indicates that just the opposite appears to be true. That is the genius of Gannett. You figured it out first. Your papers don’t win serious journalism awards. Few self-respecting journalists with job options would consider a career at Gannett. There is almost no original thinking or cutting-edge analysis of the important issues of the day in your papers. Your columnists are absolute nobodies. Your editorial writers have virtually no impact on policy-making institutions, either here inside Nashville’s Interstate 440, or inside the Beltway, up near where you live.

But what do you care, Mr. Dubow? Gannett is kicking everybody else’s financial derriere in the newspaper industry. As CEO of a public company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange, you well know that you have a fiduciary responsibility to return value to shareholders. Fact is: you’re better at it than any of your competition.


Although newsletters and magazines are not as guilty of getting rid of good editorial folks in the name of profit, it is happening. Well, maybe it has already happened. Newsletters and b2b have never been the place where it's at, where the center of cutting edge lives . . . yet still, marketing-think pervades our business, even more than newspapers. And by marketing-think, the Editrix does not mean thinking up clever ways to market exciting, innovative products.

Here's what the Editrix means: Last summer at the product development retreat, she suggested we look into doing podcasts and webinars, rather than just audio conferences (which, for those like the Editrix who had never HEARD of such a thing, are like webinars but without the PowerPoint and you have to call in on a phone. They're so . . . 1990s). Now, most people would think this suggestion was a little . . . late. The reaction? MAN, "Well none of our customers are demanding that. I don't think they want it." Um, yeah. That's the way to be innovative and a leader in the field. Simply ignore larger societal trends that you don't personally get.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Personal Problems

Damn, where did April go? Oh yeah, to Albuquerque for a conference. While the resort was lovely in many ways, particularly the standing whirlpool, the whole place reeked of cedar and eucalyptus. Which gave the Editrix a massive, 3-day migraine. Never mind, MAN declared that my sensitivity to noxious odors was "a personal problem." Unlike his desire for next year's conference to be held at a place that has an 18-hole golf course, rather than a puny 9-hole golf course.

Monday, April 02, 2007

8 Simple Rules for Being a Good Freelancer

Here's a topic you don't see discussed to death by editors, but we should: clueless freelancers. The Editrix believes editors, rather than freelancers, should discuss this topic to death because we might just get ourselves a better pool of freelancers.

Many a freelancer likes to hang out on blogs and on lists and question why, oh why, doesn't she get any work? Is the world against her? Is it her lack of publishing credits in major media outlets? a lack of connections? a lack of "platform"? Possibly. But more likely, it's cluelessness about the job that editors do, and how to make your own freelancing services invaluable to an editor. Plus, there's also quite a bit of idiocy on the part of relatively inexperienced freelancers about how the publishing business works. In fact, these comments are really aimed at those new to the freelance writing world. If you've made a living for three or five years as a freelance writer in years that did not include 1998 - 2000, you obviously know what you're doing and can stop reading, or better yet just skip to commenting.

1. Editors are overwhelmed. Don't waste their time. This is not a scientific statistic, but 100% of the b2b editors the Editrix has known have way the hell too much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it (hence the Editrix's spotty posting record). Editors, like most of the rest of today's workforce, must contend with not enough staff and trying to grow products despite that. And, deal with deluges of email and too many pointless meetings they cannot avoid, plus their own personal boredoms and frustrations that come with most jobs. For freelancers, understanding this simple concept will make you invaluable, if you act upon it accordingly.

2. Deliver what you were asked to. When the Editrix says she want a 1,200-word piece on something, that is what she wants. She doesn't want a 1,500-word piece that she then has to take time to send back to you, or spend her time cutting, or ask the one other person on her staff to fix up. Cutting something means that she must use some valuable thinking time on what needs to go. Publications have space limitations, and any editor worth her or his salt knows how much copy, almost down to the precise number of words, they need to fill that space. Of course, some pubs have more wiggle room than others. If in doubt, ask the editor up front. You can make yourself invaluable if you give an editor clear options about where to cut, if she's not sure how much space she may have (with advertising, it can be a guessing game right down to the wire).

3. Write well, and don't expect anyone to spend time correcting your work. The Editrix may have "editor" in her job title, but that does not mean she loves copyediting. She doesn't. It's up to you to make sure your piece does not have passive voice stinking up the place, that your list of five points contains five points and not four or six, that your tone and sentence length is appropriate for the type and style of the publication, that your grammar is up to snuff, and that you have used something in addition to Microsoft Word's spell check and grammar tools to check your piece. Spell check will never, ever flag "untied" when you meant "united," nor will it question "pubic" when you meant "public."
As for fixing your work, let the Editrix just say that if you have given her three assignments that were stellar and the fourth is kind of a dud, she'll probably assume that either her assignment wasn't clear or that you were having a bad week. If it's your second assignment from her, she'll assume you're not really great. She might give you one more assignment just to see if her assumption is correct, if she is pressed for time and doesn't have a big pool of other known freelancers to choose from. If she does have a big pool of freelancers, though, your boat is sunk. And do not EVER expect to be given a chance to fix something that is fundamentally flawed. The Editrix does not have the time or the inclination to teach you your craft.

4. Please don't share the sordid details of your life to explain why your story is late. Unless you knew the Editrix and socialized with her before she gave you an assignment, the Editrix is not your friend. She does not want to hear that you have been babysitting two friends' dogs and all the extra work is going to make you late on your deadline (true story, the Editrix does not make this stuff up). The Editrix likes chatting with her freelancers, and getting to know something about them, but still--no hotflash stories, no drinking exploits, no detailed medical stories, no lavish foreign vacation stories (obviously, we're paying you too much!), no marital problems, no drug rehab. Unless you're Augusten Burroughs, in which case you can tell me pretty much anything you want. Including your stint as a Barbazon model.

5. Don't plagiarize. Seriously, I can't believe I have to say this, but I found out recently that a freelancer who does a lot of work for our company, and used to work here, turned in a piece to me in which she had copied sentences verbatim from various paragraphs in a government report and plunked those disparate sentences into one paragraph. Then she thought that we wouldn't catch it if she cited the wrong report as her source. Ye gods.

6. Do not expect to be paid for at least 30 days from the time you submit your invoice. Yeah, you may "know" that the Editrix's organization cuts checks weekly for vendors. Do not mistake that "fact" for one which requires her to physically take something down the hall, out of her way, when she's in the middle of a Framemaker crisis, deadline for getting conference materials together, getting an issue to press, or one of 13 other crises that haunt her days. She will make sure that your invoice gets to accounting fairly promptly, ie, in time to get you a check in about 30 days, because she has been on the other side of this equation and knows how much difference one check can make. But for the love of all things holy, DO NOT EMAIL the Editrix and lecture her about how your invoice should already have been paid when it has been sitting in her hands for 10 days. One fabulous freelancer the Editrix used to work with had a great system, in which on day 31 or 32, if he hadn't received a check, would send the Editrix a gentle email that he hadn't received payment for invoice #blah, dated and sent on blah, and to please let him know if she needed more info or another copy. Totally professional. And quite frankly, sometimes the Editrix had completely misplaced it, shame on her. But this polite yet effective nudge is one reason why this guy is on the top of the Edirix's list of freelancers, if she can every pay his rates again.

7. Undercommit on deadlines and overdeliver. OK, OK, it's complete corporate-speak, but there is an actual kernel of wisdom there, so bear with the Editrix. If you want to wow an editor, negotiate a reasonable deadline, and then beat it. Editors are always pressuring freelancers for stuff ASAP, if not a week ago. Be strong, and resist that pressure if you know you can't deliver something good in the timeframe the editor wants. The Editrix's fave freelancer used to negotiate with her for a week to do an assignment, then send it in on day 6. Every so often he sent stuff in on the day it was due, which was peachy as well. Once in a blue moon he would email, at least two or three days before something was due, to let the Editrix know he was having problems and might need an extra day. Which she always gave him, because he was damn good.

8. Pay attention to editorial calendars. This is a bona fide tip, not a rant cleverly disguised! If you want to write for publications that use editorial calendars (usually magazines or newspaper supplements), here's a tip: Check out the calendars, which are usually hidden under the advertising info section of a website. For example, here's the schedule for USA Travel Magazine. These are amazingly late deadlines to the Editrix. Here's another, more typical editorial calendar, from Texas Hospitals magazine. Magazines are planning which articles to print anywhere from 2 months to even 6 months in advance. Particulary for the non-cover story articles, plans can fall through -- a commissioned article can suck irredeemably, or the ad guys actually got off their duffs and sold a boatload of ads, meaning more edit pages needed -- and the editor is scrambling. If you have a finished article you wrote on spec, find publications that are interested in that subject and query the editor about 3 months before press time. You may just luck out and be the miracle article that fell from the sky. And in the process become the editor's new best freelancer. The same kind of logic applies when big events happen. For example, if you had already written an article on mental illness among Korean immigrants before April 16, your first move on April 18, say, would be to query some editors. In other words, be the editor's lifeline, and you will always have work.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Farmyard Fun

So apparently the new business buzzword we get to cringe over for the next year or so is "bucket." Not, unfortunately, as in Hyacinth Bucket ("It's bouquet, dear"), which would be marvelous. No, according to the Wall Street Journal, bucket is the new silo.

The WSJ's Christopher Rhoads first gives several stomach-churning examples of bucket usage (and the Editrix does not mean for pig slop). Here are two:

"During a recent public-television interview, Dow Chemical Co. Chief Executive Andrew Liveris explained that producing ethanol 'doesn't help the conservation efficiency bucket -- it helps the diversity of supply bucket.' Cingular Wireless boasted that its new rate plan in South Florida lets customers 'dig into their big bucket of night and weekend minutes" earlier than before.' "

Then, Rhoads proclaims that:
"Suddenly, the humble bucket has become a trendy fixture of corporate boardrooms and PowerPoint presentations. It is pushing aside other business-speak for describing categories or organizational units, such as silo and basket."
(You can get the whole story here, if you have an online WSJ sub.)

What IS this obsession corporate America has with farmyards? Silos, buckets, baskets, all hallmarks of an agrarian lifestyle lived by absolutely none of the CEOs and upper management types. Maybe some of them grew up on farms (or in the West, ranches), but they sure don't live there today.

The Editrix has have not lived on a farm, either (though her father grew up on one in western Kentucky). She did, though, spend about seven years of her twenties riding horses. She mucked a lot of stalls and fed and groomed a lot of horses to do it, once she left her big law firm gig. She also cleaned a ton of buckets in the summer, when the warm weather and feed-filled horse spit threatened to create science experiments in the horses' water buckets. It was wonderful, backbreaking, honest and maddening all at the same time.

Somehow, the Editrix does not think that those who toss around the term bucket to describe parts of their organization have spent much time with the lowly bucket. Aside from the lack of farm familiarity, she doubts they have lately even used a bucket for domestic purposes. More's the pity. Something more than a nodding acquaintance with hard physical labor might give executives a little more humanity, so that instead of obsessing over their stock portfolios and their gargantuan bonuses, they could, yanno, consider paying their rank and file employees better wages and health care.

Maybe the obsession with farms has to do with the animals, instead. Or, Rhoads offers, another masculine obsession: size. One commodities trader said that he "has heard bucket transformed into an adjective too. When a trader wants to sell a large block of stock, he looks for a buyer interested in 'something bucket-y,' says the trader. 'It means something chunky, with some girth to it.' "

The Editrix thinks that it is their vocabularies that need more girth.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Headline News

Herein, some newsflashes for writers regarding headlines. Some of you need them.

Headlines Are Not 20 Words Long. Ever. And, if you ever submit a headline like this one:
Call the Doctor, I Think I Am Gonna Crash: What You Need To Know, But Are Afraid To Ask About the New Designated Doctor and Required Medical Examination Rules and Processes
that landed on the Editrix's desk, you will rot in writer's hell. The Editrix will see to it personally. Here's a clue: 5 words or less. That's the number of words most headlines should contain. You can cheat, particularly in b2b pubs, by using subheds on those unruly complex ideas. But keep that main title short. Remember, brevity is . . . Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

Footnotes and Headlines Do Not Mix. Seriously, the Editrix cannot believe she has to say this. But in the aforementioned headline, there was a footnote after "crash," to let us all know the excruciating details of the Eagles, "Life in the Fast Lane," Hotel California, and changes in band personnel on that album (yes, it was an album). Um, thanks, but no thanks. If you need to footnote a headline, it's not the right headline!

Pop Culture References in Headlines Must Connect to the Story Content. They cannot relate only tangentially, as the alleged headline above did. The story is about new legal requirements for the use of particular doctors in workers' comp cases. It is not about drug abuse, drug overdose, needing a doctor on the spot, or even about driving rapidly. Doubtless the song reminds the author of some fond memories of a well-spent youth, but readers don't care! Use a hook whose line is connected to your story. The Editrix will thank you, not to mention your readers.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Stiletto-Proof Glass

"Glass ceiling" was a phrase bandied about with much heat when the Editrix was in college, lo those many years ago. The discussion seems not so heated these days, but the evidence of it certainly continues.

The Editrix brings this up as the result of a discussion Ethyl had with MAN, one of our VPs, a couple months ago. MAN, Ethyl, and AMB were going to Chicago for a meeting, heading out on an early-ish flight. MAN arrived early enough that he was the very first person in Southwest's B boarding line. Ethyl, having smartly e-boarded early enough to be in the A group, sailed in a bit later. MAN starts to get very concerned that AMB is going to miss the flight. Mind you, his concern isn't unwarranted. But as Ethyl explains to him, AMB "will get here right before they close the door."

So MAN's response to this info? "Wow, I guess his wife isn't very supportive of him." "What do you mean?" "Well, my wife always makes sure I'm packed and have everything I need and that I leave on time for stuff like this." At which point, Ethyl's head explodes.

OK, not really. But she is the mother of three, two of whom are under 3 years old. She would view her husband as supportive if she didn't have to hound him to help her with the kids in the morning when it is obvious she is overwhelmed. She would expect him to help her pack roughly when hell freezes over.

So here's a VP, not much older than me or Ethyl, who expects that his colleagues have someone at home to basically wipe their asses. How on earth are professional women supposed to shine at work with this kind of crap in the back of their bosses' heads? All of the Editrix's friends with kids who also work for a paycheck are constantly exhausted, and the Editrix is no exception. In fact, she could pose as the poster case for exhaustion. How on earth are we supposed to have those brilliant ideas, implement those aggressive product release schedules, just generally shine and get those promotions when our asses are constantly dragging, AND we're competing with jerks like MAN whose SAH wives perpetuate those 50s stereotypes???

In defense of my own boss, along with the company president, I don't feel as if the MAN attitude permeates management here. (Though the lack of women VPs concerns me.) But I have worked for far too many places where it did. When, exactly, is sexism going to die? Susan Faludi wrote Backlash about 20 years ago, and not nearly enough has changed. Professionally, Nancy Pelosi, Oprah, and Indra Nooyi notwithstanding, the average woman's prospects aren't incredibly better now. We're up to a whopping 2 % of women CEOs of major companies. WHOO HOO BABY.
And note how Fortune plays those numbers, like they are some fabulous thing: "There are more women running FORTUNE 500 companies this year than there were last year. Currently, 10 FORTUNE 500 companies are run by women (up from 9 last year), and a total of 20 FORTUNE 1000 companies have women in the top job (up from 19)." Yeah, I'm feeling the progress. 'Cause the Editrix is sure that no promising, talented women have opted for spending more time with their family over a hard-driving career, whether that means a less demanding job or quitting altogether.

Why would anyone make such a choice? It's not like the workplace remains the same as 20 years ago. Oh, wait, it is: a 40-hour or more week is required for promotion to upper management; benefits, which we all need, continue to be tied to a job, meaning that women and men who want or need to work less cannot, unless they would like to go without health insurance and risk their own and their kids' health. Ooooh, can I? And with the proliferation of email and Crackberries, we can't escape the office unless we vacation in the middle of Wyoming or Antarctica or something.

That's not to say that flextime, telecommuting, and other workplaces changes in the last 15 years haven't been good for women; they have. But let's be honest, they benefit men at least as much. And they are still regarded as privileges, carrots to hand out, rather than a basic part of the workplace structure. Which is still modeled after the 1950s Ward Cleaver lifestyle, in which all those little things like grocery shopping, cleaning house, cooking, running errands, taking the kids to the doctor, going to school activities, getting the car fixed, meeting various home contractors, etc., were all magically taken care of by June. The Editrix, though not gay, would dearly love to have a wife like June. The Editrix positively loathes cleaning house, after all.

When men routinely take paternity leave for two or more months, it will be a fine day in America. Until then, get out your glass cutters, everyone. Or at the very least, do your part and don't expect your spouse to be your servant.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Void of Clues

It's make fun of contributors week!

When you're trying to spell a word you're just sure you know, but one that Word keeps placing that annoying red squiggle under it, what do you do? Well, if you are one of my beloved contributors, you would NOT consult a dictionary, even the fairly useless one embedded in Word. Nah, that would take too much effort. So when you want to use that word that means "absence of matter" as well as "to clean with or use a vacuum cleaner," you just sound it out. Apparently.

Because that is the only way the Editrix figures the attorney-contributor got to the alleged word "vacumn": by reasoning that it rhymes with "column."

And then, there was a headline written by another contributor from the same firm, which embodies the aphorism about apples not falling far from the tree. The headline was 30 words. Thirty freaking words! Not only is that not a headline, it's not even short enough for a lead (or lede, for you old journos) sentence. Ye gods. Do these people not read the Wall St. Journal or the New York Times? or even the Miami Herald? It's time to buy a clue, folks. Or the Editrix will dump you into the black hole that is her inbox.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Have Disability, Will Travel

Wow, a two-fer posting day. Will wonders never cease. But I had to share this:

From an article about workers' comp and determining disability ratings (yes, the Editrix leads a riotous life), the author wrote, "If the employee is determined to have a disability, and that disability . . . ."

Yes, the Editrix is sure that employee is completely frothing at the mouth and lusting to have a disability.

If you ever want an example of why passive voice is the spawn of Satan and bureaucrats everywhere, you have the Editrix's permission to use this one. Extensively.

Smarty-pants

Yep, it's been awhile. Sinus surgery will do that.

I seriously worry about two things: 1) that the MyPod generation is completely incompetent and yet will inevitably have the reins of power handed to them/dropped in their laps from Gen X's dead hands, and what will happen to the world then? and 2) that I am now an official old fart because I worry about #1.

I mention this because yesterday, the clerk at Target was astounded that I knew the word "hydrogenated" and used it in a sentence. As in, "Wow, what's the difference between Kraft Organic Mac-n-Cheese and regular?" With my response, "Eh, they use organic cheese and wheat, and no hydrogenated fats." "Whoa, hydrogenated? That makes you sound really smart!"

Um, gee, thanks. Maybe I'll get a t-shirt, figure out my new embroidery/sewing machine, and embroider "hydrogenated" on the front and back. So, yanno, I can look smart coming and going.

I did manage to bite back the reply I wanted to say, which was, "Ah, well, I sound smart because I AM," on the grounds that it's not nice to brag. Also, if you're an official Target maven, you're not allowed to make the Target clerk hate you.

In a way, it was like reliving my angst-filled childhood, when I was routinely made fun of, and was mortified, by kids saying "you're so smart you read the dictionary at night." Which was mostly NOT true! except when I looked up a word for homework and then there were some other really fascinating words nearby . . . . Maybe I passed the test better the second time around, because this time I didn't blush and I didn't want to go hide under a rock. Ah, the scars of a childhood growing up in Appalachia.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pub Fiction

It's not something that you read about much, but it sure affects you: firings. Especially when they are unfair.

No, no, not the Editrix. Heavens, you would have seen far more entries lately had that occurred!

I am refering to the firings of two of my former bosses in association land, aka The Boxmaker. Over the last few months, first my former VP and then my direct boss were fired from the hellhole. Not that they aren't glad to be gone. When the senior management is convinced that any new and really different way of conducting business is a threat, who wants to stay? Especially when, in my former boss' case, the new VP (who has already earned the nickname of Lady Vader among staff) calls him in a week after she has been on the job, to tell him his performance is iffy. Yeah, that must be because the flagship magazine I used to edit for him was successfully redesigned and hit its budget targets, two new publications were successfully launched, etc., etc. BAD performance, BAD!

What an unbelievable load of crap. Which is more or less what my former boss, Mr. Goodpub, thought to himself. So he quit putting off the publisher he had been putting off about coming to work for them. That was over the summer. Mr. Goodpub, being the upright, ethical guy that he is, did not want to leave until after the association's annual meeting, aka Hell 07. He's a better person than the Editrix, I assure you.

So, while at Hell 07, Mr. Goodpub one day consumes a grand total of a cup of coffee and something salty for breakfast, some juice around lunch time, and at the cocktail hour, a couple glasses of wine. If you are the kind of person who keeps up with health recommendations, I'll bet you can name the big nutritional item missing from Mr. Goodpub's intake: WATER. Sure enough, as he was going to his hotel room to get ready for dinner, he collapses at the doorway to his room. He gets rushed to the hospital while Lady Vader goes to quiz the security guard at the event about Mr. Goodpub's intoxication. She also makes sure to get the doctor to confirm that, gasp, yes, he had alcohol in his system. (Unlike her--she apparently runs on pure bile and acids.) So rather than, say, pay attention to the doctor's diagnosis of severe dehydration, Lady Vader, the CFO, Lady MacBroken, and the president, Lord of the WASPs, decide to fire him for drunkeness while at Hell '07. But since the Boxmaker is a NICE place, they also decide to pay him some severence.

Two days before he was going to hand in his notice, that is.

Good guys: 1
Nasty ninnies: 0

Monday, November 13, 2006

Ja, Wilhelm!

From a CCH newsletter I subscribe to: "George Miller will helm the House workforce committee."

Quick, who knows what makes the Editrix crazy about this sentence? Hint: It's not the change in party leadership in Congress. I'm pretty happy about that. Until the Dems blow it, anyway.

Will HELM???? A helm, you hapless CCH editors, is an object. It looks like a wooden steering wheel with extra spokes, like this. It is something you act upon; the helm itself does not act. It is a close cousin of the bump on a log. Above all, it is not a verb. Dammit.

Have those monkeys finished with writing Hamlet and moved over to CCH? Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

ITiots

The Editrix first admits a few things:
1. She loves technology. She got her first Palm Pilot in 1997.
2. She politely loathes most IT managers. She believes they worship Mordac.

What prompts this post is the web manager's refusal to comply with the Editrix's reasonable request to post back issues of her major publication online, without a yes from AMB.

Now, if you really want to piss off the Editrix, tell her that she is in charge of a product, but cannot make simple decisions about the functionality of that product's website. Customers have asked for back issues online, the Editrix wants them for her own ease of reference and use. Both of these facts have been communicated to Mr. Holy, the web manager. This simple task should have been completed by now. Mr. Holy freely admits that there is no technical difficulty in complying.

This highlights the real problem with ITiots. They know a lot about one thing, but mistakenly think that they can apply the logic of their discipline to areas outside their expertise. Sorry, ITiots, the world of content is not comprised of one's and zero's. My world is more complex. It involves intuition, connotation, communication, and yes, even feelings. Do not mess with my editorial world, and I will not mess with your server update schedule. Or worse yet, go spill my caffeine-free Diet Coke on your keyboard.

Monday, October 23, 2006

There Is a (Grammar) God

Good news for editors everywhere--grammar is officially back in style at high schools. According to the Washington Post, teaching grammar had fall out of favor in the 1970s. This is news to the Editrix, who in the late 1970s and early 1980s learned all about grammar, including how to diagram sentences, in public school in Kentucky. That fact may seem astonishing to many, seeing as Kentucky's schools have not exactly set the country on fire with their educational prowess. When I was in school, Kentucky's schools ranked in the bottom five or ten states in the country. And I'm not sure much has changed--Kentucky currently can claim the highest percentage of rural adults without a high school diploma, along with the highest percentage of rural students who qualify for federally subsidized lunch. Granted, I grew up in one of the alleged cities (pop. approx. 30,000 at the time), so my schooling may not have been quite as lacking as the more rural parts of the state. I did, after all, learn quite a bit about grammar! Thank you Miss Jones, Mrs. Riley, Mrs. Matthews, and Mrs. Curnutte.

Yet, the Editrix realizes that there are still hordes of writers out there without much of a clue regarding the use of commas, semicolons, and indeed, the need to use entire words, rather than IM abbreviations. For the record, the Editrix adores IM, but tends to use whole words and corrects her spelling before hitting enter. One of the nice things about working in b2b publishing is that most professionals do know the basics of sentence construction, though certainly not the intricacies of parallel structure and similar means to make writing sing rather than plod.

The Editrix highly recommends Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, by the wonderful curmudgeon Lynne Truss, for those interested in an entertaining venture into the world of grammar. If she could pull it off, the Editrix would require all her authors to read that book plus the inimitable Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Sadly, since she can rarely offer actual money to her authors, the Editrix thinks the chance of that happening falls somewhere between nil and no way.

The Editrix owns both the fourth edition and the illustrated version. The Editrix admits that she often fails to live by the most important precept of Strunk & White: Omit needless words.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pub-anomics

Most people outside the publishing industry associate titles like "editor" and "writer" with glamour. Ha bloody ha.

Sure, if you're editor in chief at a major glossy, New York-based magazine, like Real Simple, you'll be raking in the big bucks. Or if you are Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, you will be recognized and possibly even mobbed on the street. Not to mention those extremely nice, juicy royalty checks that would come your way.

Make no mistake, though, most editors and writers will remain safely anonymous and barely middle class.

Want some proof of the value most suits see in editing? Take a look at this story, which recounts how the new, shrinkwrap barely off, $123.5 million Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville apparently does not employ proofers for its signage. And it took the local paper a month to figure out a word was misspelled. Super. I'm sure someone will get fired or upbraided in some fashion for this faux pas; I'm also sure it won't be the doink who said, "why do we need to pay someone to proof everything? we can do it ourselves and save money."

It's not news that word processing software makes everyone think they are writers; nor is it news that spellcheck provides a crutch for poor spellers and convinces people they are also editors. Combined, they make bean-counters question the need for actual, gasp! editing by professionals. After all, if spellcheck and grammar check didn't flag anything, your document must be A-OK. Right--at least, until there's an embarrassing glitch.

Of course, once you've had a good copyeditor or proofer catch some glaring mistake in a headline that five other people on your staff (including you) did not see, you understand just how valuable they are. Yet many, many pubs do not have positions devoted to such a valuable function. The dailies do, because there are so many writers and tight deadlines they cannot afford the error rate. But smaller publications, particularly b2b shops, have axed that job in the name of efficiency. They just pile it on someone else's duties, oblivious to the fact that not everyone is good at copyediting or proofing. They are real specialties. I am not anyone's gift to either, I can assure you. I will never ever be even a lowly sergeant in the Style Police Unit.

The same trend holds true for writers. Suits seems to think that any reporter can write stories about anything. In some small way, they are right: a good reporter should be able to cover just about any topic. BUT. That does not mean that a good reporter wants to do so, or that they can perform the miracle of tough, insightful interviews on any subject after taking up said subject two days before. It takes time to learn the nuances of any beat, and a couple years to have a really good rolodex of contacts. Robots do not good reporters makes. So of course, the Tribune Co. has decided to squash the publisher that stood up for these fine sentiments and principles, and will most likely fire lots of good reporters in the name of the bottom line. It seems that a profit margin of 20 percent just isn't enough. Note to Tribune suits: Maybe you could do more with less salary of your own? Trade your inflated $150,000+ salary for, say, four or five really solid, experienced reporters that actually produce the stuff (stories) you sell? Or can you Tribune suits can go out on the street and sell your spreadsheets? Didn't think so.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Alleged words

I'm mounting the soapbox with my language police uniform on. It's somewhat dusty and a tad tight. Though far more lax than the average copyeditor, even The Editrix gets riled with those who take too many liberties with the English language.

Incident No. 1
"Decider" did not bother me overmuch as a coined word. Partly, because Dick Francis used it as a book title in 1993, long before Shrub stirred up the word mavens last spring. Also, importantly, "decider" follows an understandable English language logic: The suffix -er signifies "one who" (among other things). As in, baker, one who bakes; candlestick maker, one who makes candlesticks. Simple, easy to apply, even for eight year-olds.

But recently on weather.com, I saw a link for an "Explainer." Turns out, this is weather.com's tag word for a background story.

My word: Fie.

Fie on you, lazy marketing types. Fie on you, editorial dweebs in search of hipness. "Explainer" is clunky and plain lazy. It grates. It does not make any linguistic sense. The alleged word is not shorthand for one who explains; it is shorthand, I gather, for a story that gives background on hurricanes. For crying out loud, just call it a backgrounder and stop mucking up my day.


Incident No. 2
Normally, my wonderful associate editor Blondie writes well. Imaginative, generally clear, if not quite concise enough (but that will come).

Every once in a while, I think Blondie wants to see if I'm paying attention.

Like when I get a sentence from her with the alleged word "congrue" in it.

Yes, there are many verbs I now accept that once upon a time were only nouns : IMing, Googling, texting. I can even live with "plutoed." Truth be told, that's clever--and easily understood. Unlike congrue, or explainer.

Incident No. 3
I discovered this wonderful new word at BuzzWhack: Targasm. See, I'm not a complete stick-in-the-mud. Language evolution can be fabulous.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

There is pain in contribution.

GAAAAAAHHHHHHHH.

I reach this point when I have been editing really crappy writing for too long. Like today. It's a 4,400-word article that should have been 2,000 words, from a contributor whose name is on the newsletter and who gives us content free every month. This arrangement is the oil that lubricates much, if not most, of b2b publishing. B2b publishers could never afford to pay professional writers, or heck any writers, a fee for all their content. They would have to fold the tent and go home. And that's saying something when writers are woefully underpaid to start with. Instead, b2b publishers pay editors a nominal salary to fix the mess. That's where I come in.

I wish that I merely corrected the use of that and which, unsplit some infinitives that didn't need splitting, added or deleted some commas, and called it a day. That is certainly my wet-dream fantasy for today. I have had contributors who wrote so well I barely had to touch their work. I ADORED those contributors, even if they came with a prima donna attitude. It's a lot less work to massage egos than to fix horrible writing. Life really, truly, deeply sucks as an editor when you have to do both.

I try not to be mean when I edit. I know that despite their crappiness, the contributors writing for us do sweat some blood. I know it hurts when your purple prose that you stayed up late writing gets whacked without much explanation, let alone with the snarky comments I would love to make. I rather hope that it hurts less to be edited by a professional, and dare I say decent editor and writer, than by someone in your firm who is just more senior and wrong-headed than you are when it comes to writing. That happened to me frequently in days of old when I practiced law.

Here is my favorite editing story from those ulcer days: The young lawyers in the office who worked for a particular partner, Thinman, were sick and tired of all the crazy, nit-picking, make-your-writing-worse edits he insisted upon. So we decided to have a monthly contest. Whoever got the worst Thinman edit of the month would get lunch on the others' tab. It was a great idea, but shortlived. Thinman's secretary won the all-time title in the first month.

In legal affidavits, there is boilerplate language to include at the end. Lawyers who litigate for a living can recite it in their sleep, and it goes like this: "I certify under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge." (Even after 9 years away from practicing law, I don't have to look that up.)

Well, Thinman gave his secretary this edit on an affidavit: "I certify under the penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge." Yep, he added THE to the boilerplate. We just couldn't go on with the contest after that.

Unfortunately, I still edit lawyers' writing frequently. I just don't work directly for them, and for that I'm grateful.

Now excuse me while I mop up the blood dripping from my eyeballs from having to edit today's verbal diarrhea.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Spinning Off

Crawling into the office yesterday just barely in time for the weekly editorial, marketing, and management confab at 10, I check my email for any bombs before heading to the conference room. SOP. I see a note from my boss, saying the meeting is cancelled, but he wants to meet with a group of us underlings at 9:30. WTF??? He, like me, never gets in on a Monday before 9:45. And the email is timed 9:08. Jesus, what am I going to do if he has suddenly become a morning person? I really cannot cope with being articulate before 10am, let alone showing up for work much before then. Dammit. And now, I look like a total slacker because I wasn't there for the 9:30 confab. I hate being a nightowl stuck in a morning person's world.

Waiting for the minute amount of caffeine from my decaf shots over ice to hit, I am clearly missing the point. My best office friend Ethyl stops by, and soon things come into focus. "Oh good, you're here. Now we can have our meeting. Did Absent-Minded Boss tell you?" "Uh, he mentioned something late Friday about new products for 2007." "Oh, no! That's not it. We're selling the printing division." Holy crap, Batman.

Oh yes, it's one of those square between the eye with a two-by-four events. No one seems to have seen this coming. Even AMB seemed out of the loop--he did not have a boatload of answers for some basic questions, like, "are we going to make a profit on this sale?" Dunno, seems like a thing you might want to know if you're the head of content for a company. Though speculation is that he himself didn't know until Monday morning.

I am sad to see some very nice colleagues being shipped off to an uncertain fate. Though not as sad as they are, I'm sure. Supposedly, there won't be job losses of major proportions--a couple of folks here and there, not too bad I guess for a transaction that takes about a third of the company's workforce with it and doubles the size of the acquiring company. But we all know how these things go--the real test is six, eight, twelve months down the line. And those of us that remain aren't feeling real sure this is going to put the company on the right path. It may well. Most publishers these days do not own printing companies, so we were a bit of an anomaly. Maybe our grand and glorious EBITDA will improve after the spinoff, and we can get better financing on the company's debt. I don't know.

What I do know are a few things. One, I'm very happy that rumors did not float around for weeks. I've been through that, and it is just horrible for morale and for just getting my fat ass to work. Not to mention getting anything done besides gossiping and IM'ing all day. Two, I'm pretty damn glad my biggest product is doing well. I would not want to be the guy down the hall who is three months late on his new product for no real reason, and who got majorly called on the carpet for trying to weasel around that fact a few weeks ago by the company's president in the Monday confab. Three, I had better turn a few other products I inherited around quickly! I don't want to be pounding the pavement in a city where I have few work connections yet. Plus, there just are not many b2b publishing jobs here. Freelancing is always an option, but could it please just wait until my husband finds a job?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Why The Editrix?

The simple answer is that I could not find any blogs that answered the questions I had in my job as a b2b editor.

So what exactly were those questions? Some were mundane, like, "is there an online tool, or hell any tool, to help me map out next year's editing and production schedule? I'm way tired of doing this by hand. Or rather, by head." Others were more philosophical, as in, "are there other newsletter editors out there who are bored out of their skulls with their newsletter's content? and if so, absent quitting your job, do you have any good ideas for getting enthusiastic about your pub again?"

Once upon a time, Folio: answered some of these questions, but like so many other publications about publishing, that magazine is more interested these days in whinging on about synergy, cutting costs, branding, online presence, and related crapola. Yes, editors need to understand these things. But for the love of all things holy, the money side of publishing is NOT THE ONLY SIDE OF PUBLISHING. There are the people who write, who edit, and who design--without whom, of course, all the marketing and money folks would have little to do but contemplate their navels and clean out their toejam. After getting their manicures and playing golf, of course. I don't hate marketing types, but they do try my patience on a semi-regular basis.

If you want help in the daily struggle that is editing, I want this to be your place. If you want to vent about the airhead marketing princess, be my guest. If you want to bash management for being short-sighted when they cut writers and other content acquisition costs, go for it. If you have a great tip for making life more fun in the editing trenches, please share. And if you have some really good sites to share, send them on. Please. I hate it when my job overtakes my surfing time.