Querying and Rejection

When I was a wee little 22-year-old poet I was roommates with a journalist and writer in her late 40s. She treated my writing ambitions seriously, and we often talked about writing. When I got my first rejection from a literary journal I called her. I felt good, and she summed it up.

“Congratulations! You’re a real writer now!” she said.

I got my first agent rejection today. It hadn’t even been 24 hours since I had sent the query. When I saw her email my heart jumped. Of course it did. But I wasn’t surprised to read her “not a good fit, best of luck placing it elsewhere” note.

She represents mostly fiction (I subscribed to Publishers Marketplace, which I highly recommend in order to find out what each agent really represents). Her blurb said she was looking for nonfiction, even though all her sales were romance novels.

Resilience is one of the most important characteristics for a writer. I am not always a resilient person in the rest of my life, but I guess I learned young with writing.

Fear, Loathing, and Searching for an Agent

Yup. I finished my book. For real this time. Or at least for real until I’m rejected a jillion times at which time I will have to reconsider all my life choices.

I have a query letter, an outdated synopsis, and a healthy fear of pitches. (I really need to update that synopsis.)

There is nothing like looking for agents to make you think that everyone is better educated, better dressed, more cultured, and far prettier than you.

(It goes without saying that everyone is more glamorous than me because I live in a farmhouse devoid of right angles. Pastoral mystique? Perhaps. Thoreauvian charm? Of course. Ghosts of chickens? Maybe. Glamorous? Not ever.)

I gotta take a break and let the self-hatred die down a little.

How’s by you?


How Not To Use the Word American

Editorial Rant

Do not begin your magazine or newspaper article with “As Americans…” if you are talking about race.

“As Americans seek to learn more about Black history….” No, Vanity Fair. You do not mean Americans in general, you mean white Americans in particular.

The New York Times is particularly guilty of this. “As Americans read books to understand racism…” Actually, Black people understand racism quite well. What you mean is white Americans.

(You can say the words white and Black to refer to people without being racist!) But actually it brings up another point. I have seen Asian Americans on my particular sphere of social media talk about trying to understand anti-Black racism. So actually maybe what we should say is”As non-Black Americans try to understand racism….”

This centers Blackness, which would be a nice change.

Everything Else

A couple of you lovely human beings actually come here to see how I am. I am still employed as a full-time editor (after having a mostly amicable breakup with my freelance career). I am healthy of body if not of mind. My dogs are still cute.

Earnest Plea for Something to Read

Also I need things to read. What’s your favorite book about Black history or a memoir by a person of color?

Stay well, my friends.

Black Lives Matter

There is a lot of hand wringing about what white people can do to help dismantle white supremacy.

The first is to acknowledge that it is there. Acknowledge that every single decision your average white person makes about where to live, go to school, entertain themselves, date, etc., is affected by race and yet we don’t even acknowledge it, because whiteness is perceived as the default “normal” in our society. (Read this.)(And this.)

I’m just one white copyeditor living in seclusion. Here are some things that your averageĀ  editor can do to dismantle white supremacy:

Donate some of your hard-earned money to people who are doing work on the ground.

If you’re the (now former) New York Times opinions editor, maybe you should read your fucking controversial opinion pieces before you publish them. And maybe you shouldn’t publish editorials based on race science either. [Total aside: As an Ashkenazi Jew I found the latter article almost as offensive as the former.]

If you’re not the (now former) New York Times opinions editor, you can still do work! If you’re a craft-book editor, perhaps you should not use “flesh colored” to mean pale peachy pink. (I wish I could tell you that I haven’t seen that TWICE in my copyediting career, but I’d be lying.)

You can question if your publication uses only images of white people.

You can question whether your publication is using middle-class as a default. You may not have the power to ultimately make these changes, but you absolutely have the power to make an author think and rethink her assumptions.

You can read your work from a perspective that is different than yours in terms of race, ethnicity, class, religion, disability (pick one!) and see if that changes things. One might be tempted to praise Bon Appetit for addressing racism with an article that says “How to check in with your black friends.” And yet it assumes that the reader of Bon Appetit is white. It does not say “What to cook to take care of yourself as people who look like you and people you love are killed by the police over $20.”

You can think about various problems with having a majority white publishing industry (i.e., racism). You can think about how white supremacy is not just tiki-torch-waving assholes marching down the University of Virginia Lawn. It’s not just Klan members. It’s the fact that default normal is seen as white. It’s the fact that I can waltz into my new publishing job looking the way someone expects a copyeditor to look (white) and a black colleague might be treated with surprise at best. It’s that a black woman and a white woman of similar educations and work experiences have radically different experiences moving through our world.

If you have power in your organization you can hire, promote, and amplify the voices of people of color. If you are a regular Joe Schmo, you can still amplify the voices of people of color.

You can do something. (Another place to start.) What are you going to do?


Writing: A Timeline

6:00: Alarm goes off. Plan to get up and write.

6:30: Get up, but don’t write.

6:50: Household dynamics require that dogs be fed and taken outside before Indy Clause gets her coffee. Truly she can’t write without coffee. On the bright side she has read all of the morning’s grim news and can clear her mind to work. Or so she hopes.

7:15: Dogs and coffee are all sorted out.

7:16: “DOG 2, WILL YOU STOP CHEWING UP PAPER?! Sorry, Dog 1, I know that was loud. Everything is okay.” Give dog 2 a toy and reassure dog 1, who is a beautiful, sensitive poodle with many feelings.

7:20: Open document and despair.

7:25: Use Self-Control to kick self off internet. Twitter does not in any way comfort those in despair.

7:30: Despair.

7:35: Find one problem that needs to be fixing. Rewrite paragraph. It turns out that writing banishes despair at least for a short while.

7:55: Look up and realize that 20 minutes have gone by and productive writing has occurred.

7:56: Surely this merits a blog post.

Hits publish. Takes coffee to desk to start on paying work.

How do you get anything done?


The Desk

For many years I shuttled between teaching, tutoring, editing, and writing in various combinations. Sometimes I had three manuscripts in my bag. Other times it was student papers. I bought a travelers notebook as an indulgent gift to myself and kept track of my hours.

Today was my first day at the first full-time job I’ve had in 12 years. I sat at my desk and attended meetings online. I wrote notes. My eyes fell out of my head when they talked about health insurance. I had mid afternoon tea. I did not go anywhere.

(Not that anyone is going anywhere these days.)

I had my beloved adjunct bag filled with books and manuscripts and pens. Now I have a desk. Manuscripts fit in my files, and I weeded through my pen cups to keep only the ones that work. Books are everywhere. I separated out my pencils. (Demon Puppy separated out one more, which she chewed on. Jerk.)

I also love my desk. I feel as if I will be spending more time there.

What’s the view where you are?

The Perks of Being Online

Could an era be coming to an end? I just finished the second online interview for a full-time job. Could I be leaving the freelance world? I hope so.

But don’t worry. I will still be editing at home with a pile of dogs. I’ll just have more steady work, benefits, and (I hope) less formless job anxiety.

Interviewing online is much better in person. You can wear your best-looking shirt as long as it isn’t obviously dirty. You can eat hummus for breakfast and not worry about garlic breath.

And I assure you. I will still be cranky.

Besides the obvious, what is new in your worlds?

The Rural Copyeditor

Me: Snort.

Spouse: What?

Me: The ground was just described in my book as hardened and muddy. It takes place in the rural northeast. [We just happen to live in the rural northeast.]

Spouse: [silence]

Me: The copyeditor was probably from New York. The ground can’t be both hardened and muddy. [cf. our yard]

Spouse: The copyeditor probably has never even seen the ground.

Me: Exactly


January Notes

Items I Have Used for Kindling This Month

Weeds poking through the snow

My gas bill

Junk mail advertising the cure to erectile dysfunction

Grocery store bags

Chapter 10

The pharmacist bag from my anti-depressants

The bag the bourbon came in

(Do those two things cancel each other out?)

Lousy, stale bagels

A delicious baguette I didn’t eat in time

Pizza box

Paper towels soaked in leftover cooking oil (by the way, this works the best)

Chapter 12

The free newspaper that shows up at my house

My spouse’s notes from studying Good Works

Chapter 13

Books I Have Read and Not Burned

The Old Ways, by Robert Macfarlane

The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit, which MENTIONS The Old Ways, but gets an extremely tiny geographical detail wrong

Jackaroo, by Cynthia Voigt

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Various and sundry schlocky novels that I will not confess to even anonymously

Books I Have Burned

Only my own

What are you burning these days?





How to copyedit when your author is a preachy MF

Hello, I’m back. You’re glad I’m editing trade nonfiction again, because it means I have more to complain about and thus more to say! For example, what do you do if your author is being an insufferable sanctimonious heteronormative writer?*

(*I was about to write “asshole,” but truly Author is not an asshole. They were just ranting on the page. Lord knows, I would never rant on the page.)

Query your author’s assumptions, because it’s your goddamn job. When your author says, “Only terrible people eat dark chocolate,” warm up your diplomatic querying muscles to state: “AU: Please consider rewriting. Eating dark chocolate does not make a person terrible.”

Change every instance of “mom and dad” to “parents” or “adults.” Your editorial overlord will likely back you up.

Singular “they” is the word of the fucking year. Rejoice. And don’t stint on its use.

Be subtle. Your author has written, “Eating oranges will be the change you have always wanted see in your life,” twenty-thousand times. They won’t notice if you change something to be a little more inclusive.

Flex more diplomatic muscles. “AU: This sentence reads as if you are suggesting that people provoke bear attacks by just walking down the street. I know you would never mean that, but please rephrase to make more convincing.” You know goddamn well that Author thinks victims of bear attacks are at fault in their own mauling (although sometimes they are; be careful how you store food). But let’s maintain this useful fiction.

What useful fictions are you maintaining lately?