Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Career Encouragement from a Teenage Millionaire

The keynote speaker at the NRWA conference was Cameron Johnson, whose recent fame derives from having been runner-up on Oprah's Big Give. But at age 23, he's already been a self-made millionaire for almost a decade.

Cute as a button and in command of the room, Cameron enthralled and amazed us with the story of his entrepreneurial ventures--from being the first eBay reseller of Beanie Babies to making $15,000 a day from his Internet business while still in high school. Cameron's business instincts have been unerring.

So imagine the dissonance I perceived when he said his latest venture was to write a book. During the Q&A session, I had to ask:

"I work in book publishing and I know it's not a very profitable business model," I began.

"Oh, it's terrible!" he interjected.

"So what was your motivation to write a book?" I asked.
He went on to elaborate on the grim statistics of the publishing business to the audience full of secretly aspiring authors. Then he said that the reason he wrote it was to tell his story, in response to many requests. He said he has an awesome agent in La Jolla who got him a bidding war like the ones we read about in Publishers Lunch, and presumably a big advance. So he was one of the lucky few, and You Call the Shots has been a successful venture.
The key takeaway from Cameron's riveting presentation was this:
"Put yourself out there. If you don't ask for it, you're never going to get it."
I intend to keep this thought in the forefront of my mind going forward.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Top 10 Things Recruiters Hate About Resumes

I'm back from a whirlwind trip to San Diego and the National Resume Writers' Association annual conference, which truly rocked. This week I'll be slicing, dicing, and serving up the juiciest bits I learned there.

For starters, here are some resume don'ts from the HR manager panel discussion moderated by Jobing.com Community Relations Director Rosanna Indie:

Top 10 Things Recruiters Hate About Resumes

  1. Spelling errors, typos, and poor grammar
  2. Too duty oriented, not highlighting accomplishments
  3. Omitted or inaccurate dates
  4. Incomplete or incorrect contact information
  5. Inappropriate e-mail addresses (like hot_mama@aol.com)
  6. Functional resume formats instead of chronological
  7. Long resumes
  8. Long, run-on paragraphs
  9. Person not qualified for the job they're applying for
  10. Inclusion of personal information not relevant to the position

The whole group had their eyes opened by #6. Many people prepare resumes that highlight their relevant skills when their job history has gaps or isn't relevant to the position they seek. But this panel was unequivocal about it: They hate those. They throw them in the trash. They want to see a chronology and actual job titles. A compromise: Use a summary of your skills at the top of the resume before launching into the chronological job listings.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Leaving for the NRWA Conference

I'm leaving first thing tomorrow morning for the National Resume Writers' Association annual conference in sunny San Diego. I don't expect any sympathy for getting to spend three days immersed in cutting-edge career industry knowledge and surrounded by like-minded writers (not to mention the beaches, the shopping, the dining, and time alone on planes to read!).

Come to think of it, conferences are kind of a racket. Organizers lure participants by scheduling the meetings in fabulous locales that offer the opportunity for a little R&R between sessions. Then they add in greatly reduced rates at fancy hotels. Who can resist? I guess everybody wins: Organizations make money, participants have an enjoyable learning experience, and companies benefit from the knowledge they bring back.

Speaking of all that reading time on planes, I panicked earlier this week when I realized I didn't have a paperback on hand that I was dying to read. Luckily, Steph and Stephanie, fellow publishing folks with an amazing personal library, came through for me and lent me three cool books that I have been wanting to read:

The only question now is, which one to read first?

Have a great week. I'll try to check in from the conference, but I am not lugging my ancient laptop through airport security. Besides, it feels good to be untethered for a few days!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How to Future-Proof Your Publishing Career

Everyone is in agreement: Book publishing is changing so rapidly, we might not recognize it 10 years from now. Today you might be on top of it all; but if you don't start thinking outside the proverbial box, tomorrow someone's going to ask where you got all your fossilized notions about what book publishing is.

But just what should we be doing today to make sure we're still employable in the future world of book publishing? Here to answer that question is Wiley VP and Publishing 2020 and Kindleville blogger Joe Wikert. I posed a few questions to him about the brave new world of publishing careers, and his responses are enlightening.

I'd love to get your insights on how all the new technology in publishing will affect the careers of individuals. What sorts of retooling should we be doing to make sure we're still relevant to the publishing industry of the future?

I think the most important thing we need to do in this (and probably any) industry is make a commitment to being lifelong learners. Technology is causing rapid change everywhere and if you're not keeping up with it, you're highly likely to fall behind. That's why every time I see a new and interesting applet, website, tool, device, etc., I try to test-drive it. I miss quite a few, but I also think I do a reasonably good job of staying on top of the important ones.

As far as our own industry is concerned, it's pretty clear that e-content is the future. E-books only represent a tiny fraction of any publisher's revenue base today, but that's likely to change--maybe not tomorrow or next year, but it will happen. (Btw, I'm still a big believer in print books...that's not going away in my lifetime, but e- is where it's at.)

With that in mind, I'm amazed to talk to so many people in our industry who have never touched a Kindle or Sony Reader, for example. Even though the Kindle is harder to find (because of Amazon's online-only distribution model), the Sony product isn't; just go to your local Borders or Target and check it out. I've had my Kindle for three months now and I can't tell you how much it's influenced my thinking, not just for the Kindle but for e-content in general.

Social networking is another critical area. Every publisher will want their content where communities are forming. What better way to accomplish that goal than to tap into social networks? You can't be overly obtrusive, of course, but I'm convinced we'll see all sorts of innovative ways to expose our content through this sort of platform.

Do you think book graphic designers should be learning skills for laying out/converting e-books, such as XML and whatever other technologies are being used?

Yes, I definitely think designers should be familiarizing themselves with the new challenges involved in e-devices. It's a totally new world and it introduces a new set of challenges from the print space. Every time I get a file/book/newspaper on my Kindle that looks like a simple port from print I just about want to scream! The tricky thing here is that we're working with rapidly moving targets. Right when you think you have all the angles figured for something like the Kindle or Sony Reader, boom, they'll probably release a new version or add new functionality. There again, staying on top of all the developments will be crucial.

What about editing--if the world moves to an e-book-heavy model, will editors need to adjust how they do their work?

The same goes for editors. This brings me back to the "content layering" drum I like to bang from time to time. It also applies to authors as well as editors. Just because a print product features a two-dimensional reading surface, why should we feel compelled to limit ourselves to that in the e-world? Simple hyperlinks are one thing and should be considered baby steps in this area. What I'm talking about is building a truly collapsible and expandable work.

Are you familiar with any of those book summary services out there? getAbstract is one and I believe another is called Executive Summaries. These guys take a 300-page book and boil it down to 4-5 pages. So in the e-world, what I'm describing is a product that could be read as a four- to five-page summary or a full-blown 300-page book. The reader gets to decide based on how much they want to drill down in each area. So I envision a getAbstract-like approach that allows me to click on any of the summary paragraphs and they expand into more in-depth coverage of that particular topic. Maybe there are only a few small pieces of the four- to five-page summary that I want more info on, so I expand there and cruise right through the rest of the summary. The key is I can shrink and expand as needed.

Authors and editors would have to learn how to write to this layering model I've described above, and that's no small task. But think about how much more usable the resulting product could be! Then again, I tend to get overly excited about this stuff...and I might be the only one!

How will acquisitions editors compete against people self-publishing their own e-books and selling them online?

We'll have to look at reinventing ourselves, don't you think? Author platform is such an asset to any great book these days and it doesn't matter whether it's self-published or done through a big publishing house. So where do we add value? Marketing and PR are two areas. Then there's the editorial/selection process. I'd like to think that editors still play an important role in finding the highest-potential projects, but there have been enough self-publishing hits to show that we don't catch everything. I think it will also be important for publishers to play a role in helping authors build their platforms. It should be a joint effort, not something an author should have to do on their own.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Grand Central Editor Selina McLemore Profiled in American Chronicle

I'm always happy to run across interviews with publishing professionals about what they do and how they got their jobs. Jeff Rivera's interview with Selina McLemore is extensive and packed with revelations. In it she dishes on chick lit, the multicultural book market, her editing style, and the types of proposals she's looking for.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Color Me Happy: A Color-Perception Test

Do you think you have a pretty good eye for color? Many people in the publishing business either come into it with a natural ability to discern hues or have to try to pick it up along the way. Want to see how well you can differentiate subtle differences in color hues? Try the X-Rite 100-hue test here.

How'd you do? I thought I did pretty well, but my score was 31 (0 is perfect, and it goes up to over 1,000, I think). The results showed that I am least able to discern hues in the cyan area, which, ironically, is my favorite.

What on earth is X-Rite, you ask? Other than being the lucky originator of the newest viral fad, it's also "the global leader in color measurement and color management, offering hardware, software and services for measuring, formulating and matching color. The company serves a range of industries, including printing, packaging, photography, graphic design, video, automotive, paints, plastics, textiles, dental and medical. X-Rite serves customers worldwide from its offices in Europe, Asia and the Americas." Sorry you asked?
Thanks to coworker Stephanie Koutek for sharing the link (and to whom I just confessed at lunch, "I have no idea what to blog about today!").

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wiley Is Looking for a Copy Editor

In a world where more and more copy editing is being outsourced (and offshored), it's encouraging to see the local Wiley office posting a job for an in-house copy editor (see here). Requirements include prior editing experience, a four-year degree, and tact. I suppose that eliminates a lot of us.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Books on the Nightstand

Michael and Ann, the really excellent bloggers at Books on the Nightstand, have challenged their readers to show them their nightstands. At the risk of exposing my slothful ways, I'm obliging them here.

This is an unedited, unstaged view of my nightstand. Note that the lone "grownup" book (David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed in Flames) is outnumbered by the books I read to my four-year-old daughter every night, including Happy Halloween, Hello Kitty; Little Quack; and Parts. Every night she drags in three new selections from her bookcase. She hasn't mastered putting things back where they belong (my fault, and the bane of my existence), so they pile up for weeks until I do a massive purge and sort, and take them back to her room.

Note also my phone charger cord, which I now unplug every morning because Barack said I should.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tim Huddleston on Making the Leap to a Freelance Career

Tim Huddleston is another of my publishing heroes from way back. After a successful career in publishing management, he became a freelance editor in 1995 and has been equally successful at that. He is now the owner of docugistics, inc., in Charlotte, North Carolina.

So if you're thinking of starting your freelance career, Tim's got some great advice for you. Take it away, Tim!

  • On timing and the economy: I’m not sure there’s a perfect time to make the leap from in-house editing to freelancing. You just have to prepare yourself as best you can, then jump. Strangely enough, in my area of specialty (college textbooks, apprenticeship training manuals, software documentation, and self-training manuals), a bad economy means more work for me. When things take a downturn, more people go to school or look to improve their skills; this creates a greater demand for the products I develop.
  • On how much money you need to make: The big question is whether you can find enough work to generate the income you need. So, your first step is to figure out what that income has to be. You might want to discuss this with an accountant, because whether you become self-employed or incorporate your business in some manner, your tax situation will change. And it’s much more painful to pay your taxes yourself, especially 100% of your Social Security tax, than to let an employer do it for you.
  • On setting rates: Once you determine what your income (including enough to cover all your taxes) has to be, you can figure out how much you need to charge your clients. I suggest determining what your average hourly income should be and then using this as the basis for negotiating your contracts. If a client wants to pay by the project, you can estimate the number of hours required and multiply that by your desired hourly rate. Rates, by the way, are all over the map. Some clients are happy to pay $65/hr and up for a top-notch developmental editor, writer, or revisionist. Others can’t see spending more than $30/hr for the same set of skills. You have to decide what you’re comfortable with and be open to negotiating. I have found that some clients don’t bother negotiating; they ask what your standard rate is, then they pay it.
  • On demonstrating your value to clients: I try to position myself as a “utility player” with my best clients. They know I can edit, develop, write, author online help, do acquisitions or project management, capture screen shots, walk their dog, or clean toilets. I try to remind them frequently of the value I can create for them, so they tend to think of me first no matter what they need. This is helpful because it means a variety of projects without having to juggle a large list of clients. In situations like these, where a client needs you to do a lot of different tasks, you may be able to land a retainer-style contract that guarantees you a specific amount of work over a set period of time. Such contracts can help you manage your time and provide an excellent sense of security.
  • On emergency employment situations: If you think your employment is about to end, start lining up clients as quickly as possible. Don’t walk out the door without at least one contract in your back pocket. Having a freelance arrangement with your current employer can cushion the blow if you have to exit. However, don’t look for other clients on company time/phone/network; do it at home, at lunch time, or on a day off.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Another 9/11 Lunch with Joe Wikert

As if meeting Michelle Obama yesterday wasn't excitement enough for one week, today I met blogger and Wiley VP Joe Wikert for lunch. He's an all-around great guy and I've looked up to him since the day he hired me in 1991.

Ironically, I haven't seen Joe since 9/11--the actual 9/11, seven years ago today. That day we'd planned to meet for lunch to talk about a job he had open. Even though the world was turned upside-down that morning, we still met, along with Chris Webb, another well-known publishing blogger who also worked in Joe's group. I was so unnerved by the morning's events that I think I shook throughout the entire lunch. But the quasi-interview seemed like a breeze in contrast to what was going on in New York.

The job wasn't quite what I wanted at the time, but we've stayed in touch. I won't bore you again with the story of how last summer he urged me to step up this blog, but I'm so glad he did. Today we had a great time catching up on each other's families, careers, and blogs. I made him promise we won't wait another seven years to connect again (seeing as how we cross paths every single day!).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Photos from Michelle's Speech

I Just Talked to Michelle Obama

Seriously! She was here in town today for an economic roundtable for working women. My friend Linda Seifert mentioned yesterday that she had one of the 300 coveted tickets for the event. I said I'd like to go too if she found another. Not only did Linda find me a ticket, but she got me into the front row. Behold the power of networking!

Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert was also in the audience (she is giving a huge presentation tonight at a local church). One of the organizers tried to get her a seat next to me, but ran out of time, so she ended up standing in the back. Seriously! I've made a vow to read her book next.

The other diversion was watching the Secret Service guys. They are quite intimidating and focused. And whatever you do, don't make eye contact with them! It'll freak you out.

Michelle herself is breathtaking. She is so warm, poised, graceful, articulate, and sincere. She was flanked by former Indiana first lady Judy O'Bannon and former Lt. Governor Kathy Davis, along with several regular working women, who all told their stories of their personal struggles as working moms. I laughed; I cried; I reaffirmed my 20-year commitment to the Democrats.

I believe that even though Barack faces near-insurmountable challenges in straightening out this mess our country is in, his heart's in the right place and his wife is an excellent ambassador for him. Afterward, I thanked Michelle for fighting for us, and she asked me to fight, too.

So there you go. I'll post photos tonight.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The PR Equivalent of a Hail-Mary?

Now that our contract has expired with the PR firm and we still do not have a new in-house publicist, I'm trying to do a few stunts here and there to get some more notice for The PITA Principle. (I think maybe I picked up a little too much from former boss's boss Barry Pruett, who once flew to New York and stood outside the windows of the Today show waving a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Windows 95 the day the software was released--and got it on camera, I might add.)
My first trick was to send a copy of the book, along with a compelling pitch, to a local media personality who is on TV as well as the radio. Even though Paul Poteet is a weatherman, he has a side "comedy" routine with the traffic guy and engages in a lot of on-air banter with a popular radio morning show personality. I imagine that he is going to bust out laughing at the book's subtitle: How to Work with and Avoid Becoming a Pain In The Ass. Then I hope he's going to mention it on the air. A lot.
So I sent it yesterday and now it's wait-and-see time. I have a few other ideas up my sleeve, which I will reveal as I execute them.
Why am I doing this, you might ask? It's not my job, after all. Because I care too much, dangit. I want this book (and all my books) to sell well. And without a full-time person doing publicity for them, I fear that's just not going to happen. I've already done my part by hiring only authors who have "platforms" for promoting their books. But they can only do so much by themselves. So I'm doing what I can with a little "seagull" (swoop in, swoop out, and leave a big mess) PR.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Printing Industry Declines in Wisconsin

There's an excellent article by Eric Decker in the September 5 issue of Small Business Times of Milwaukee and southern Wisconsin. It's an exceptionally detailed and insightful report on the consolidations, layoffs, and changes in the area's printing industry.

Two main points that stood out to me were that those printers that didn't invest in newer equipment are losing out. Also, there's the familiar refrain that a lot of printing business is going overseas, where government subsidies make it difficult for local printers to compete.

And of course, as newspapers suffer the consequences of more people getting their news online, printers suffer right along with them.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Hear Sara Nelson on WordSmitten

This Sunday at 4pm ET, tune in to WordSmitten on BlogTalk Radio to hear Publishers Weekly editor Sara Nelson speaking on various publishing industry topics, including PW's upcoming Book Publishing 101 workshop on September 22 in New York.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Fan to Pro's" Tips for Getting Publishing Jobs Despite the Downturn

Fan to Pro is a neat blog that shows people how to apply their fannish and geeky interests to their jobs and careers. I guess I never thought of writing and editing as geeky, but maybe that's because I'm too fannish about it?

At any rate, this recent post caught my eye. It makes some good points about how to redirect your writing career dreams in a way that capitalizes on the fast-moving trends of the industry. I've been thinking of doing a post on this very subject, with a more specific spin toward the book sector. So stay tuned for that one (hint: I think graphic designers and page-layout people should be learning XML).

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Typo Eradicators Arrested

Back in April I blogged about Jeff Deck, who was on a mission to fix typos in signs all over the nation. Well, it seems he took it a step too far when he altered a sign at Grand Canyon National Park and was arrested (read the story here). He was fined, sentenced to probation, and banned from the national parks.

Deck's Typo Eradication Advancement League website has been taken down, although it seems poised to host a forthcoming statement from him.

So they've put his head on a pike as a warning to the rest of us grammar vigilantes? I assure you, we will not be deterred. But we will avoid defacing government property for sure.

Thanks to fade theory for her post about this.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Job Hunting Genius: Bring the Paparazzi to Your Interview!

Former JIST VP of marketing Randy Haubner got an unanticipated boost to his job search this weekend by appearing on the front page of the Indianapolis Star talking about the fact that he is looking for a job (read the whole story here), complete with photos of him at an interview. Not many job seekers get this kind of visibility!

You might be wondering how he pulled this off. We've all internalized the "networking is king" mantra that all of our books put forth. So he contacted workplace reporter Dana Hunsinger, with whom we have a good relationship, and asked her to keep an eye out for opportunities for him. It just so happened she was planning a Labor Day article on job hunting and asked whether he'd participate. He agreed, and there he was on the front page, right under Hurricane Gustav.

It's a potentially risky move, though. I haven't heard how the employer reacted to him bringing along a photographer, but surely it made him memorable. But the article itself was kind of a downer--how bad the job market is, la la la. It will be interesting to see what comes of it.

Meanwhile, if you read the whole story you'll see that Randy is looking for work outside the publishing industry as well as inside. He had to hedge his bets--there just aren't a lot of options for people who want to stay in publishing and stay in Indianapolis. I think he's smart to keep all options open.
Update: Randy reports that he's already gotten two legitimate job interviews and has connected with three other people as a direct result of the article. Way to go!