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.