Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Part of me rejects the hackneyed practice of making new-year's resolutions. After all, how many of them have really stuck for me past January 2? I think I will instead just throw out some general ideas that we should all keep in mind during the coming year. If they help us make a few better decisions, that's awesome enough for me.

  • Keep your priorities straight: If there's one positive thing about recession, it's that it forces us to cut out a lot of the wastefulness and excess. You don't need a Hummer. You need a roof over your head.
  • Make a difference to someone: If you can't afford to donate money to charities this year, maybe you can donate time instead. Spend time with someone who is lonely, send a card to a long-lost friend, hold a door open for someone and give them a smile.
  • Work out a Plan B: Don't just hope you don't lose your job. Do something proactive to help your company and your job survive. Start thinking what you would do next if you are laid off. Unemployment money might not be there in the future. What can you do to keep the cash coming in?
  • Get involved: Our incoming president has a monumental task ahead of him, and he wants your opinions. Join in community forums and share your opinions on how to help rebuild our nation's economy and improve everyone's quality of life.
  • Get moving: Stop the excuses and start exercising.
  • Give up a bad habit: Cut down on sugary drinks or potato chips or cigarettes. Eat more (locally grown) fruits and vegetables!
  • Forgive someone (or everyone): Carrying grudges gets tiresome. Drop them all.
  • Watch less TV: Read more books!

I resolve to lead a richer life next year in which I focus on what's really important and don't dwell on the bad things. Hope your new year is safe and happy, and filled with a simpler abundance.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Writing Letters of Recommendation

Today I got the opportunity to write a letter of recommendation for a former colleague who is hoping to get a gig as a creative writing instructor on top of his current freelance editing work. In the past few years, I've also been asked to serve as a verbal reference for a few friends and former colleagues, including one who was interviewing with the DEA. (You would not believe the prying questions they asked!) It always makes me a little nervous, but I have developed a bit of a system for doing it right.

First, I sit down and write all the positive words that come to my mind when I think about this person. I think about what that person's strengths are and how those strengths relate to his or her job target (it helps if the candidate can send me a job description or give me some details about the job). Then I weave it all together into three punchy paragraphs loaded with enthusiasm and wholehearted endorsement.

The question naturally follows: What if the person asking for a reference is, shall we say, deficient in some area? If they're bad enough, I think you have to decline writing the letter at all (I haven't had to do this). But if it's a toss-up and you decide to go ahead with it, you can still use the first part of my technique above. Write down words that describe the person's good qualities and steer clear of areas where you know he or she is weak.

The technique also works well for writing recommendations on LinkedIn. You just have to keep it shorter--five sentences max--because nobody has time to read a long recommendation online.

As for how the letter I wrote today turned out? "I think I'm blushing," said the candidate. Yessss!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Sales, Industry Optimism, and Laurence on TV

Tomorrow I crawl back to work after a nice extended break for the holidays--but just for three days. Then we're going to Disney World. We're tagging along with Jason as he attends the Pearson winter sales meeting there.

A few things have caught my notice this week:

And best of all, local editor Suzy had her quadruplets on Christmas Eve! I guess I can tell her a thing or two about having a baby on that date, but I know not one thing about having four!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hey, Look: I'm a Marketing Expert!

Check out the latest issue of Book Business magazine, in which I am quoted in this article full of tips for a successful book-marketing campaign launch using both high-tech and traditional methods. I'm thrilled to be quoted alongside marketing pros from National Geographic Books and Doubleday.

This feels a little surreal and ironic, because I've never officially been in a marketing role. But working at a small company and feeling ultimate responsibility for all of the books on my list, I've learned a lot by osmosis. Plus, I read a lot of blogs written by smart marketers.

Thanks to Mark Long for pointing me toward the article. I did the interview quite a while back and didn't know when to expect it. And happy upcoming birthday to the article's writer, Amanda Baltazar (which I know because Plaxo told me so!).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday WINS and Title Fun

The Daily Kos is asking readers to speculate on what the title of George Bush's little-anticipated memoirs will be. Care to start our own list of suggestions?

Also, I'm still patting myself on the back for a bit of technological cleverness this week that saved me from a major headache. When I manage to think of it, I like to send a holiday treat to my freelance clients--you know, to make them like me and want to work with me more next year. When I managed the freelancer pool for Frommer's, we used to rake in piles of sugar-laden payola. (These days, not so much.)

Anyway, I wanted to send my new client a box of my favorite chocolate/caramel "turtles" from Mike Libs in Evansville. I picked them up when I was there at Thanksgiving and even chatted a bit with Mike himself, a self-styled Willy Wonka who is one of two brothers carrying on the family candy business. But I waited until nearly the last minute to mail them, and was faced with braving an ice storm and long lines of other surly procrastinators at the post office.

Then it occurred to me: Maybe could help. And help it did! I was able to print a mailing label and pay the postage with my credit card. Then I dropped it in the outgoing mail. Woo-hoo! Add that to the fact that I did 75% of my Christmas shopping online (and still got awesome deals) and I am feeling pretty happy. Is there anything you can't do online?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gory Details of the Macmillan Layoffs

Can't resist pointing out this article from the New York Observer, which gives you an idea of what it was like inside the Macmillan offices during the layoffs.

The article also goes into great detail about how earlier publishing layoff victims are coping. Some high-profile people are still "floating," and the writer observes that

Most of the book people who have for whatever reason had to leave their jobs in the past year should not expect to find new ones if they only consider positions at the handful of New York trade houses that they’re used to working for. Instead, both Ms. Shanley and Ms. Sayre said, these people will have to make their living by doing freelance work and seeking out new outlets for their skills.

So I have to wonder: Will there be enough freelance work for everyone who seeks it? Certainly the fact that people are being laid off will necessitate that more work be sent out. But publishers are also cutting back their lists, which means less work in general.

The article then goes on to quote people bemoaning the end of the publishing world as they know it, tying it to the end of the Industrial Revolution. Well, folks, I have to agree. We are in the midst of the Information Revolution, and the way we do business and deliver information is changing. Those people who couldn't ever be bothered to learn how to edit on a computer will be the first ones left behind. Those who figure out what the trends are and adapt their skills accordingly are the ones who will lead the new publishing paradigm (whatever it may be!).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Same Old Stuff, Different Day

Yet another publishing layoff announcement, this time at Macmillan.

An interesting thing to note is CEO John Sargent's admission that the company's presence at Book Expo next year will be greatly reduced. "I think it makes more sense to funnel our marketing dollars elsewhere," he said.

I can pretty much guarantee that the majority of the other publishers out there are saying the same thing. They were already saying it last spring before things really got bad. The only thing that might save it this year is the fact that the show will be in New York, so many people will be able to attend without incurring travel costs (although I admit that it was thoroughly amusing to see all those black-wearing Manhattanites in L.A. this year, framed uneasily by palm trees and squinting at the excess of natural light).

Publishing blogger Fran Toolan has some predictions for publishing in 2009. I agree with him: It's going to be an interesting year.

All in all, not an auspicious way to celebrate Jane Austen's 233rd birthday, but there it is.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh, the Irony: Layoffs at CareerBuilder

Last week, online job bank CareerBuilder laid off 300 employees (see report here in the Chicago Tribune, a sibling in the same struggling parent company). These people were primarily in the unit that sold job postings to smaller companies.

HR blogger Cheezhead somehow knew about this ahead of time and spoke of the 300 boxes being brought in in advance for people to pack up their stuff. I guess that's another sign to add to the list of "how you know you're about to be laid off."

I was wondering the other day whether the dearth of want-ads right now is because there are no jobs, or because nobody wants to pay to advertise them. I guess this gives us a clue that the latter might be at least partially true. In a case like that, people should be refocusing their efforts on looking for those "hidden" jobs that you can find only through networking. Of course, that was always true, but now it's more true than ever. Also, check the companies' own sites and other free posting places, such as craigslist.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wal-Mart Deletes Hyphen

Okay, call me a little slow on the uptake, or perhaps just distracted. But I just noticed this week (while convalescing on the couch) that Wal-Mart is now Walmart. They changed their logo and their font and dropped the hyphen.

This post on Brand New (from back in June) knew of no explanation for the change. It's all well and good, and makes it simpler for those of us who literally spent hours arguing over whether the star in the old logo was a hyphen (seriously!). Except how are they ever going to get rid of all the instances in the world with the hyphen? Their own site is riddled with the hyphenated version.

I feel an inconsistency nightmare coming on. What's worse, I don't think the rest of the world really cares.

What do you think of the change? Does the new logo make you more willing to fight the angry hordes in ever-narrowing aisles for bargain-priced Sam's Choice items? For me, it depends on the day. If I'm feeling strong, have a couple hours to blow, and am girded with my coupons and my walking shoes, I might venture in. Otherwise, I'll just duck into my local "lifestyle" Marsh and enjoy a relatively spa-like experience.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Did I Walk into "the Butler Plague"?

I'm back on my feet today after two days of a moderate stomach virus--not the worst I've ever had, but still no fun at all. It's all over the local media that the students at Butler University are being picked off by a similar-sounding condition (read story here). It just so happens that I was on campus Friday night for their fabulous production of The Nutcracker. Could that have been the fatal mistake that took me out of commission for 48 hours? No matter. It was almost totally worth it to see how much my five-year-old girl enjoyed the performance.

Meanwhile, a day and a half on the couch has its merits. I got to see some good old reruns of Will & Grace, Frasier, and Happy Days (the one where Fonzie dressed up and sang like Elvis, with Laverne and Shirley as backup singers). I also finally got to watch the DVD of Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore in Music and Lyrics, which I bought for $6 at Lo-Bill. By most accounts it's a "B" movie, but to me it was worth every penny--especially the opening sequence, which is a parody of '80s music videos that is so spot-on that it hurts.

Another great thing is that I just had my first real meal in days, and it was the most spectacular cheeseburger I ever had. Nothing like a short illness to make you appreciate your health--and your appetite!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Jeff Bezos Cameo on The Simpsons

Betcha thought I was going to write another doomsday post on publishing's "black Wednesday" last week and all the subsequent hand-wringing. But frankly, my dears, I need a break from thinking about it (although I will confess to having gone to Borders yesterday and buying stacks of Penguin and DK titles and feeling all noble about doing my part toward saving Pearson).

No, what I want to mention today is the fleeting cameo appearance of CEO Jeff Bezos on The Simpsons last night. In an episode titled The Burns and the Bees, Bezos is shown having wet himself at a camp for billionaires--over a scary campfire story about the SEC.

Just two questions:

  1. How'd he get that gig?

  2. How many people outside publishing do you think actually know who he is?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Author Escapes Thailand

Shawn Graham reports here that he is now home safe after taking a 20-hour bus ride to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and getting a 20-hour flight from there. Makes me exhausted just thinking about it. On the plus side, he reports having met a stellar crowd of fellow stranded travelers. Just goes to show--you can usually find something positive about a negative experience.

Still monitoring Jane Friedman's blog for news of her safe return. The airports are set to reopen, so I'm sure it won't be much longer.

Three High-Profile Publishing Layoffs

Read all about it here, from the AP. "Yes, Virginia, book publishing is NOT recession proof," says Association of American Publishers president and CEO Patricia Schroeder. Seriously, who ever thought it was?

All the more reason to keep buying books for Christmas, I say.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Solution Tree Seeks Copy Editor in Bloomington

I heard through the grapevine today about this opportunity at Solution Tree in Bloomington, Indiana:

Solution Tree, a growing K–12 educational publishing and services company, seeks a full-time, onsite copyeditor in Bloomington. This position is responsible for copyediting manuscripts efficiently, thoroughly, and accurately; the copyeditor may also check and correct outsourced copyediting. Requirements include: A college degree and minimum 2 years’ experience copyediting books in a professional, supervised publishing setting; Knowledge of CMS style; APA familiarity preferred. For consideration, please send cover letter and resume to: EOE.

Managing editor Caroline Wise, who put the word out about the job through the local freelancer network, attests that Solution Tree is "truly an amazing [company] to work for." It produces books, videos, and other materials for teachers and administrators who work with at-risk students. Caroline also says that the commute from Indianapolis is relaxing compared to the hectic rat race that is I-465 at rush hour.

Despite the bad economy, they are having trouble finding the right person for the job. They require someone with book editing experience; yet most of the applicants have newspaper experience instead. We see this everytime we post a job, too. I think it's a problem unique to the Midwest, where chances to get book publishing experience are more scarce than in New York or Boston, for example.

JIST's books are all about knowing and promoting your transferrable skills, and you would think that someone who has edited or written for a newspaper would have the ability to learn to be a good book editor (after all, I did). But I guess the difference comes in the length of the material (and the need to maintain consistency across hundreds of pages), the style guide used, and the pacing of the deadlines. If we can find someone who has done all that before, we'd rather do that than have to break in someone who hasn't.

Anyway, looks like a good opportunity for someone who lives on the southside of Indy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Exciting Times for a Local Editor (Times Four!)

The wonderful thing about blogs is that they can sometimes give you a storyline that rivals anything you'd see on TV. Take, for example, the blog of a local editor named Suzy. For many months now I've followed her story on the Four by Two blog, in which she has been chronicling her pregnancy--with quadruplets!

In the beginning, I watched with trepidation. I felt the odds were against her delivering all those babies safely. But as the months have passed, she's come through it with flying colors, despite having to be hospitalized for the last month. And now she's about to reach the 30-week mark and the four babies are all over 3 pounds each. So I finally feel like I can unclench and be happy--nevermind that she hardly knows me. The blog has made me feel like part of the adventure.

Even if you're not excited to join the baby watch now, you'll still want to surf over there and see her before-and-after belly pictures: truly awe-inspiring.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Someone Else We Know Is Stuck in Thailand

Haven't heard more out of poor Shawn Graham, but I just discovered that someone else from the publishing world is also stranded by the political situation in Thailand. Jane Friedman of F+W Media has posted a lengthy description of her situation here.

I'm starting to truly wonder at the U.S. media. They are barely mentioning this story. I guess everything was on auto-pilot for the holiday.