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.