Monday, March 31, 2008

Amazon Lands in Whitestown

Just about everyone here in central Indiana was pleased to hear that Amazon will be opening a new distribution center in the Boone County hamlet of Whitestown. They're hiring 400 people initially and 1,200 eventually.

The news more than makes up for the loss of Borders' D.C. in Fishers, which closed last June and left 100 people jobless (many of whom are still unemployed). Maybe some of those people will be interested in working for Amazon.

As a further bonus, I'm thinking I can choose "Super Saver" shipping all the time now and get my stuff, like, the next day. What a bonus at the holidays!

I think this also opens up some good part-time opportunities (especially at Christmastime) for students. With an average wage of over $15 an hour, it beats fast food. Plus, you can say you have inside knowledge of how one of the giants of book retailing operates. I know a lot of students (and professors, too) who have worked manufacturing and warehousing jobs in the summers because the pay is so good. Yes, most of them ended up with carpal tunnel syndrome, but you can get that in an office, too.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I'm Going to the "Big Dance" of the Writers' Blog World!

Is there anything worse than being in last place in the office NCAA bracket pool? Yes, it's being second-to-last (the last-place person at least gets their money back). And guess what--that's where I stand, the almost bottom of the barrel. Again. When will I learn?

So it was with no small excitement that I discovered yesterday that the Publishing Careers blog has been named as a contestant in March Writing Blog Madness at the Writer's Resource Center. I already praised this site earlier this month. But now John Hewitt has achieved "genius" ranking in my estimation (and as sole judge, I am not trying to butter him up, really!).

Here's how it works: John has selected a bracket of 32 blogs for writers and is pitting them against one another NCAA style, judging each on a number of criteria. Reading his critiques of each blog is extremely entertaining and enlightening. Although it's tough to read feedback about something as personal as your blog, John is not being brutal to anyone, so I think I'm ready to hear what he has to say.

Looks like my matchup will be in 9 days, against my bracket's #1 seed, Writers Write. I've been getting their e-zine for a dozen years, so I don't hold much hope for an upset. But I am thrilled and honored to be included at all (seeing as how this is not intentionally a blog for writers). Meanwhile, I'm going to have to step up my game and post some quality stuff between now and then.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Caroline Roop: Editing for Harvard Business School

One of the coolest things about this blog is that it gives me an excuse to get in contact with old friends and acquaintances and ask them about their jobs. Caroline Roop, whom I worked with at Macmillan Computer Publishing, was kind enough to let me interview her for today's post. She is now Assistant Director of the editing function at Harvard Business School. Today she shares her career experiences and advice.

Where did you go to college and what did you study?

I went to Loyola College in Baltimore and studied English.

What was your first publishing job and how did you get it?

My first publishing job was at MCP as a proofreader in the production department. I responded to a newspaper ad, which they say never works, but it did!

How long were you at MCP and what jobs did you have there?

I was at MCP for 8 years in a variety of jobs. I started in production as a proofreader and compositor, then moved to editorial and was a production editor and then managing editor. Finally, I moved to marketing and found that experience to be very enjoyable because I’d hadn’t worked in a marketing department before, so I was learning something knew each day. It was also a valuable opportunity to be exposed to another part of the publishing business—outside of editorial and production.

In 2000, you moved to Boston to work for Argosy, a book packager. Why did you decide to make the move?

I had worked with Argosy while at MCP—they were a vendor of ours so I was able to get a sense of how they worked and got to know some of the people. Argosy was a small company (about 10-15 people) with a lot of potential—forward-thinking owners and a very team-oriented atmosphere. After spending 8 years at MCP, I was ready for a change—in terms of both a job and city. It was also a great opportunity to be in a job in which I was involved in many areas of the business—project management, production, marketing, and even sales! No two days were the same.

When I joined Argosy, we provided art-creation, composition, and project-management, and editorial services to trade and higher-education publishers. It has now expanded to also offer animation, full-service project management, and content-creation services for mainly the K-12 school market.

What did you do at Argosy and how long were you there?

For about 4 years, I built the project management staff to 5 full-time staff members. I hired, trained, and managed the project managers who each handled anywhere from 10-15 full-service projects at one time. I was also managed the compositors’ and artists’ schedules and assigned projects and recruited outside editorial talent. During the last two years at Argosy, I moved into business development. At this time, the company wanted to move into the K-12 market and away from trade publishing as most of that work was being outsourced. I was involved in meeting with potential clients, making cold calls to develop more leads, generating quotes, etc.

After 6 years at Argosy, you were hired as Managing Editor for the Harvard Business School. How did you land that job?

I actually saw the position posted on the HBS job board.

What’s your current job description?

Most of the case studies at HBS are what we call field cases. The HBS faculty produces about 400 cases per year (over 6,000,000 cases are sold each year). A field case is written about an actual company, or country, that is facing some sort of dilemma. Researching cases like these requires the faculty member to go on-site and interview company representatives or government officials in addition to traditional research. In order for these cases to be distributed on campus and sold through HBS’s publishing division, releases and permissions have to be secured since the cases can contain sensitive information about a company or person. So our office handles all aspects of this process—securing releases, seeking permissions from third parties, editing course materials, and processing new cases. I directly manage the processing and editing of new cases (5 full-time staff members) and have dotted-line responsibility for ensuring that all necessary permissions and releases have been secured.

What publications does your office produce?

We produce various course materials for the faculty: cases, teaching notes (to aid other professors in teaching a particular case), journal articles, papers, book chapters, etc.

How does academic publishing compare with the other types of publishing you’ve done? Was the transition difficult?

It’s difficult to really tell the difference because my role is within Harvard Business School itself and not with its publishing division, HBS Publishing (HBSP). My office produces and edits the cases while HBSP sells and markets them, so the pace and overall environment may be different there. The main differences I notice are that we have more time to produce the materials and the editing budgets are not as tight as they might be in trade publishing, for example, so we are really able to focus on delivering detailed, high-quality services to the faculty.

What do you look for when you hire editors?

We look for editors who have a broad range of experience editing various types of business publications, mainly journals, books, and cases. Some of our faculty members also request developmental editing, which we provide so we have a separate group of editors who are able to provide editorial support beyond line editing.

What advice would you share with people who want to get a job in publishing?

My advice would be to talk to people who are currently in publishing (through informational interviews) and learn about the various opportunities available and to see what area might be of interest. If you are making a career change from another field, consider taking a publishing course at a local university—or joining a professional association focused on communications or publishing to meet people. Associations often have job boards too! Also, look at the Careers sections on various publishers’ web sites to see what opportunities are available.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Quamut Cometh

Yesterday, bookseller Barnes & Noble officially launched its new online "how-to" site called Quamut (which means, cleverly, "how to"). Basically, it's a bunch of free online guides to doing just about anything you ever wanted to learn how to do. Quamut's topics are grouped under five headings:

  • House & Home
  • Hobbies & Leisure
  • Money & Business
  • Computers & Tech
  • Mind & Body

Yep, that about covers it all. In addition to the guides, you can download PDF e-books or buy laminated charts that summarize the information.

Apparently the publishing industry has known about Quamut for a while. Late last year, mentioned it, saying that the industry isn't all that upset about it. Why not? Because the site also promotes other publishers' books alongside the info, so this will presumably boost sales on those books.

I'm taking a wait-and-see stance. They are promoting several of our titles alongside the resume how-to topic. It will be interesting to see whether it has an effect either way.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Rejecter: NY Publishing Job Market Is Dead Right Now

My favorite snarky agent's assistant, The Rejecter, shed a little light this weekend on the state of the publishing job market in New York City: "The job market is completely dead right now." I can't really speculate on why that is, but maybe it's just a reflection of the job market in general, which is in trouble.

She also says something extremely interesting: that a lot of people get their start as a low-level assistant to an agent. They do their time for a year or two, and then the agent helps them find a job as an editor. Why? Because the agent may someday have a book to pitch to their former assistant, so the gratitude for the help will surely make the editor more willing to listen.

A commenter on the post says he or she is also having a tough time finding a publishing job and is considering getting a second internship because "apparently one wasn't enough."

Food for thought on this Monday morning!

Friday, March 21, 2008

My LinkedIn Network: 1 Million and Counting...

There are now more than one million (say it in a "Dr. Evil" voice) people who are two or fewer steps away from me on LinkedIn. My 125 immediate connections are for the most part people I actually know and have worked with. Some are people I've met once or talked to on the phone. There are a few strangers who invited me to connect and I agreed because we have something in common (industry, geography, etc.). Then there's my husband, my sister, and my cousin.

I know I've blogged about this before, but I couldn't resist reiterating the importance of leveraging online networking tools such as this one. Do it now so that your connections will be in place when you need them down the road. Plus, it's just fun seeing what all your old friends and coworkers are doing.

I can justify spending some work time on LinkedIn because I'm about to publish a book on this very topic. Seven Days to Online Networking is all about using LinkedIn, blogs, webfolios, and other Web 2.0 tools to enhance and advance your career. It's a short and sweet introduction to the topic that will get you up to speed in no time.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Someone Trying Desperately to Get Out of Publishing

For a change of pace, I thought I'd call your attention today to a blog entry from "Blondie" in Nebraska (or Iowa, or Chicago--it's unclear). She wrote this candid confession of how she's leaving her publishing job and trying to find something similar but different. (Wouldn't she just die if she found out that her innermost thoughts came to complete strangers in a Google Alert? I always feel a little guilty when I run across something like this.)

Not having read the rest of her blog (which doesn't seem to usually mention her career), I'm not sure of the whole story. But it looks like a major educational publisher came in and bought her company and turned it upside-down. Typical, huh?

Here's wishing her the best of luck in her search.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pearson's Scardino to Visit Indianapolis

Dame Marjorie Scardino, chief executive of Pearson PLC and the world's 17th most powerful woman (according to Forbes), is making a stop in Indianapolis next week. She'll be holding a "town hall" meeting in which she'll discuss Pearson's 2007 financial results with her Hoosier colleagues. I won't say where she'll be, just in case any of you Wiley people are thinking of crashing the event and scarfing up the continental breakfast.
This marks Marjorie's fourth or fifth visit to Indiana in her official capacity. I saw her and Peter Jovanovich speak at her first visit back in 1998, when they said they wouldn't sell off Macmillan General Reference, and then turned right around and did just that. But ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
Marjorie's not the only powerful woman to step on Indiana soil this month. Tomorrow, Hillary Clinton (#25 on Forbes' list) will be making three campaign stops in the state--one at my alma mater, Evansville Harrison High School. We're all a little excited because for the first time in 40 years, how Indiana votes in the primaries could actually help determine the Democratic presidential nominee. So suddenly they have to treat us "flyovers" (the people you fly over when you jet from NYC to LA) like real people for a change.
Welcome to these two gutsy gals. Wish we could offer them some better weather!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Guide to Literary Agents Editor's Blog

The Publishing Careers blog is about many things. One thing it is not really about, however, is how to get your novel published. I don't know much about that. But a lot of other people do, so I leave that to them. But I know there are some of you who have written books in addition to your other publishing pursuits. I've found an awesome resource for you.

It's the Guide to Literary Agents blog. It's written primarily by Chuck Sambuchino, editor of the Guide to Literary Agents book from F+W Publications in Cincinnati. Chuck updates this blog frequently and does extensive interviews with agents. If I were trying to publish a novel, I'd read this blog every day. (I just might do that anyway!)

There are two other significant things to note about the existence of this blog. For one, what an amazing promotional tool it is for that book! And second, it gives you a pretty good idea what Chuck's job as an editor for F+W is like. For example, he does extensive touring and speaking to promote the book. It's not too common for an editor to do that, but this is a book without an "author," per se. So he fills that role nicely.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sizing Up Potential Employers in Interviews

Randi Bussin, a career coach at Aspire! in Boston, contributed an article to this morning's Career Management Alliance e-Bridge newsletter on how to assess your fit with the culture of a potential employer. A bad match can result in an unpleasant work situation, so it's important to know what you want and how well your potential employer meets those expectations and needs.

Here's an excerpt from Randi's article, with some questions you can ask at the interview to get a better feel for the company's culture:

  • What three words or phrases would you use to describe the company/department culture? Pay attention to the adjectives that are used to see if they fit with your values.
  • Does the company have a stated set of cultural values? Often, a mission statement is a good place to start to gather insights in this area.
  • Can you describe the environment here? Pay attention to the words used and the aspects of the work environment the employer mentions, such as camaraderie, career-development opportunities, and work-life initiatives.
  • What is the company's attitude toward educational and professional development? Does the company place a value on lifelong learning and advancement?
  • What type of employee achievements are recognized by the employer? Pay attention to what the company values, and whether any special awards are given for outstanding customer service, sales, etc.
  • What type of sponsorships or philanthropic activities does the company participate in? Does the company partner with United Way, or support programs such as Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day? Do company employees volunteer for local charities?
Another great way to assess corporate culture is to pay attention to details as you walk around the office during an interview. A few ideas to consider might be

  • How were you treated during the interviews? Were people on time?
  • What key phrases did the interviewers use frequently? What does that tell you about what the company values/does not value?
  • How prepared were the interviewers? Had they seen your resume?
  • Do people look happy and appear as though they are having fun?
  • Do senior management members sit in cubes like everyone else or do they have fancy, lush offices?
  • Does the office layout promote collaboration between departments?
  • Are people eating lunch at their desk alone, or in groups in a cafeteria?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Back to the Grind--and a Rant

Well, I didn't win the lottery--and I'm guessing you didn't either. So back to work we go. Did you know that Web searches on job search topics spike on Sunday nights and Monday mornings, when people start contemplating another week on a job that for one reason or another doesn't thrill them? It's true. But with the economy about to tank again, people will start thinking about battening down the hatches at their current jobs and riding it out.

Meanwhile, I had a bad library experience yesterday. For many years, I haven't spent much time in the library. As a book maker, I felt I was doing my civic duty just buying books instead of borrowing them. But now that I have a four-year-old, I want her to have the same fond memories of going to the library that I do. So we got a card a few weeks ago. She's picked out books that look interesting, and we've had fun reading them and then going back for more.

But yesterday I got an e-mail that I was about to have an overdue book. But it was one we returned last Saturday. So I called them. After enduring voice-mail jail, I finally was connected to a clerk. When I explained my situation (very nicely, I thought), he switched into bureaucrat mode: "Well, have you ever had a 'claims returned' before?" "Huh?" I asked. He repeated it. "What does that mean?" I asked. Finally he explained his library jargon--have I ever claimed to have returned a book that the library can't find. "Oh, no, I haven't," I said. I refrained from launching into the "I worked in libraries for years and never heard such a nonsense term" schpiel that I felt welling up in my throat.

So in a nasal and somewhat accusatory tone, he launched into what the process would entail: They would send a "page" to check the shelf (why not just say "someone"?). If it wasn't there, they'd put the book on a list and look for it once a week on Tuesdays for a month. Then they'd call me and ask me to pay for the book (which, by the way, was a stupid little picture book that neither of us enjoyed, anyway).

Meanwhile, I keep checking online (at a site that requires me to retype a 43-character nonsense URL and a 14-character user ID each time) and the fines are mounting up. Me! A straight-A, type-A, never-paid-a-late-fee-for-anything perfectionist who's been working with books for 20 years. I stand accused of mismanaging public property. When I know I put it in the drop box with several other books. Aaargh!

I worked the front desk at a big public library for nearly two years. Only once do I ever remember this happening to a patron. We had just started using a computerized system. And still, it worked better than this one, 20 years later.

OK, I feel better now that I got that off my chest. Anyone else ever have a problem like this with the Hamilton East Public Library (where, by the way, the resume and travel books are decades old)?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Dare to Dream: What Would You Do with $275 Million?

Powerball is up to $275 million for tomorrow's drawing. Whenever the jackpot gets high like that, I can't help but think what I would do if I won it.

Most people's inevitable answer involves their employment situation: "Quit my job" or "Not quit my job." I think I know myself well enough to say that I couldn't just stop working. But I think I might reinvent things a little. You know, start my own publishing company and specialize in topics that really interest me, like music, genealogy, Indiana history, parenting, the Internet, and European travel. Rent out a cool historic building on the square in downtown Noblesville and fix it up for offices. Hire a great sales and marketing team. Publish all my friends' books and be an angel investor to worthy causes such as education and green living. Start a charitable foundation for disadvantaged women and ask Oprah and Hillary and Melinda to be on the board of directors. And of course, buy a house someplace warm.

What about you? What would you do with a haul like that? If you say you want to change careers or jobs, what's stopping you from doing that now?

Tonight, when I stop and put 40 bucks worth of gas into my little Toyota, I'm gonna spend an extra $5 and buy myself a chance to dream a little.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Writer's Resource Center's Writing/Editing Job Roll

I'll bet everyone else already knew about this cool site, but it just came to my attention today. The Writer's Resource Center has an extensive daily listing of writing and editing jobs here. Some of these jobs seem unique--I haven't seen them turn up in any of my feeds and searches. It also posts a job search tip and a list of relevant links every day. Cool!

Even better, the site offers extensive articles and resources for writers and editors on the following topics:

Site owner John Hewitt appears to be an information machine. Go check it out and thank him for his good work.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Seattle's Sway over Book Publishing

Earlier this week, the New York Times published an article about Seattle's influence over the nation's book-buying habits. It cites the fact that Amazon, Costco, and Starbucks are all headquartered there, and each has a unique influence on what people read.

I won't go into all that here because the article does that very well. The point I want to make, first, is that any of those major employers would be a good place to get relevant experience to launch your publishing career.

Second is that of course, even though the article shows its East Coast bias, there are also book publishers in Seattle. One in particular springs to know, Microsoft Press? McGraw-Hill also has an office there. And as with most places, there's a burgeoning small-publisher scene. You can catch up with what they're doing at the Book Publishers Northwest blog.

I'm just sayin'--you can start your publishing career just about anywhere. And this is further proof.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wizard of Work Asks: Are You Ready for an Interview?

I've recently had the pleasure of meeting Dick Gaither, the famous Wizard of Work. He's been in the trenches training people to find jobs for several decades. So when the Wizard speaks, people listen. He offers the following quiz for assessing your readiness for job interviews:

Sometimes it’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you think you know that isn’t really true that causes the most problems. This is especially true of the interview process. I’ve rarely met anyone who admits to being a rotten interviewee, even after they’ve been rejected. So, let’s see what you really know about yourself and the interview process.

There’s an old adage “If you’re going to run with the big dogs, you have to get off the porch.” Evaluate your interview success potential by completing this simple quiz and see if you’re ready to run with the big dogs at the interview or if you need to stay on the porch with the puppies for a while.

  1. Can you talk the talk of the industry and use common buzz words, jargon, and acronyms?
  2. Can you give the interviewer at least three reasons why you’re interested in the company at which you’re applying?
  3. Can you list 15 common interview mistakes?
  4. Can you readily give at least three examples of when you’ve done work not included in your job description?
  5. Can you identify three of your prominent employment-related successes or achievements and talk about your role in them?
  6. Can you comfortably give the interviewer at least five good reasons why a company should hire you?
  7. Do you have a 60-second promotional presentation for the interview question, “Can you tell me a little about yourself?”
  8. Do you have job descriptions and can you give three examples of when you’ve used each skill and strength listed in them?
  9. Are you very confident you can answer technical questions from a panel of interviewers or pass an employment test?
  10. Have you researched the pay scale and benefit packages for a person with your skills and experience in your locale?
  11. Have you anticipated 10 questions you’ll be asked at the interview and made notes about how you’ll answer them?
  12. Do you have a rational and acceptable set of reasons for leaving, or wanting to leave, your last job?
  13. Have you spent any time to practice negotiating a higher salary and answering the pay expectations question?
  14. Do you understand the interview methods, styles, and protocols for your particular industry?
  15. Can you list 15 of your most marketable skills, abilities, and personality traits that make you a good hiring risk?
  16. If the interviewer asks you to take a drug test “right now,” would you be willing to do so and would you pass it?
  17. Have you researched the company and can comfortably talk about their products, services, goals, and competitors?
  18. Do you follow up after an interview with a thank-you note, letter, or e-mail…immediately after the interview?
  19. Do you have a list of at least five intelligent questions you want to have answered at the interview?
  20. Do you have a business card that highlights your achievements to leave with interviewers at the end of the interview?

Add your number of "no" responses. If you have 15 to 20, Dick advises you to stay on the porch with the puppies. If you have 8 to 14, you're average--but average doesn't cut it in job interviews. If you have 1 to 7, you're in the top 30% and have a good shot at doing well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Where Is Everybody? Sick or at SXSW

It's been a crazy couple of weeks here at the JIST world headquarters. Half the office has been out sick. And we're not just talking a day or two. Our production manager was out four days last week with a near-death fever and cough. He said the thought crossed his mind, "I'm going to be one of those elderly people who dies from the flu" (even though he's only 50-something).

The entire sales staff has been coughing for, I kid you not, six weeks. Even my little girl had a touch of the flu (although we caught it early and got her on Tamiflu). I'm not sure why I haven't contracted it myself--I didn't get the flu shot, and she did. We're kind of going on a day-to-day assumption around here, wrapping everything up every day and leaving instructions for others just in case we don't make it back the next day.

Meanwhile, everyone in the blogosphere is in Texas this week for SXSW, a festival of media: music, film, technology, the web, social networking, blogging, gaming, etc. The sheer number of speakers is dizzying. Among the attendees are some people I have blogged about and/or who have read this blog at some point:

So have fun, folks, and don't worry about all us poor technology-deficient slobs stuck in Indiana hacking our lungs out.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Brazen Careerist Blog Network Launches

After many months of work and planning, the Brazen Careerist blog network has been launched. It's the collective brainchild of the Brazen Careerist herself, Penelope Trunk, and the two Ryans from Employee Evolution. Here you'll find career perspectives from 50 of the best and brightest 20-something professionals. So far, I haven't figured out whether any of them works in publishing; nonetheless, they have interesting and relevant things to say.

Readers of Penelope and the Ryans' blogs have been privileged to have a ringside seat as this startup got going. What happens when a 30-something celebrity blogger with marital problems invites two young go-getters to leave their high-powered East Coast jobs and come to Madison, Wisconsin, to start a blog network? Hilarity ensues. I've enjoyed the she-saids and he-saids of this venture. They're angling for a reality show, and I wouldn't be surprised if they got one.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Seeking a Hoosier with Fiction Experience

As much publishing activity as there is in Indiana, it's predominantly nonfiction fare: careers, business, computers, travel, history, cooking, and the ubiquitous Dummies and Idiots. But nine times out of ten that I am asked for publishing advice, it's about fiction. I always have to explain that there is a huge difference between the two types of publishing, and that I am versed in only one of them.

But surely someone out there in this state has worked for a fiction publisher. If you or someone you know has some fiction experience (editing, acquiring, agenting, etc.), please drop me an e-mail at loricateshand-at-yahoo-dot-com. A very interesting opportunity is cooking for the right person...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Lindsey Pollak on Working for a Small Company

We had a popular discussion on this blog last summer about the differences between working for a big publisher and working for a small publisher. So Lindsey's blog post this morning on the advantages of working for a small company caught my eye. She quotes a Wall Street Journal article on the subject and goes on to explore whether these advantages hold true for younger professionals just starting their careers. She concludes that they do.

I'll add my voice to the chorus: Don't overlook the smaller companies. You can get some excellent experience and contacts there, and these companies tend to not have the kinds of mass layoffs that the larger ones do.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

CBS Sunday Morning on Book Titles

Between my job, the housework, and the kid, I rarely get to watch TV anymore. But I always make an effort to catch CBS Sunday Morning, which is like a weekly spa treatment for the brain. Nothing beats curling up with a hot chocolate to watch Charles Osgood and crew dispense truly arty and uplifting fare with just enough humour for that time of day.

So it was a happy surprise to see Osgood's story about a recent book on the stories behind famous book titles. Why Not Catch-21? was released last Otcober, but no doubt got a sales bump from being featured in this fun look at the art and history of book titles. Granted, the piece focused more on famous fiction than the nonfiction titles I wrestle with every day. But still, it was quite enjoyable--as this show always is.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Two JIST Titles Win Axiom Awards

And now for some gratuitous, self-congratulatory horn-tooting.

We just found out Friday that two JIST titles have won awards in the first annual Axiom Business Book Awards competition, sponsored by Independent Publisher Magazine and the Jenkins Group.

Nearly 400 books competed in 25 business book categories. JIST's two winners were in the Careers category (of course). We took home both the Gold award and the Bronze award in our category.

The Gold award winner was a book I acquired and edited: Double Outsiders: How Women of Color Can Succeed in Corporate America, by Jessica Faye Carter.

Our Bronze award winner was When Your Parents Sign the Paychecks: Finding Career Success Inside or Outside the Family Business, by Greg McCann. It was acquired by Sue Pines and edited by freelancer (and former JIST staffer) Heather Stith.

Congratulations to everyone who helped produce, market, and sell these wonderful books! It's our hope that the exposure they get from winning these awards will give them a sales boost. That's the main reason publishers enter awards contests (that, and having something nice to add to their resumes!).

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Sixth Sense: Detecting Plagiarism and Errors of Fact

Many thanks today to freelance editor Gayle Johnson, who presents an intriguing study on how to use your intuition to spot errors as you edit.

If you’re a copy editor, you need more than just excellent spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills. You also need an ability to spot text that just doesn’t sound quite right. I call this “editor’s sixth sense.”

Blogger and former newspaper columnist Nancy Nall recently used her editor’s sixth sense to excellent effect in a story that made national headlines. As she wrote on her blog a few days ago, she became suspicious of a column written by White House aide Tim Goeglein, which appeared in the Fort Wayne, Indiana News-Sentinel.

So what in that particular column caught Nall’s attention? One small thing: a person’s name. Nall wrote on her blog: “I started to read, and a name jumped out at me—‘Eugene Rosenstock-Hussey,’ described as a ‘notable professor of philosophy at Dartmouth.’ ... Surely [Goeglein] can acquaint himself with notable professors of philosophy at Dartmouth while I watch the Oscars. But this name was so goofy, just for the hell of it, I Googled it.”

Nall’s online search revealed that Goeglein’s column matched almost word-for-word a Dartmouth Review essay written by Jeffrey Hart years earlier. After learning of Nall’s blog post alleging the plagiarism, newspaper staffers began reviewing Goeglein’s past columns. They found that 20 of 38 had portions copied from other sources. Goeglein resigned his White House job after admitting to the plagiarism.

Editor’s sixth sense can help you do more than just spot potential plagiarism, however. It also can help you find factual errors. (Even if your official job duties don’t include fact checking, I still recommend investigating anything that seems questionable.) In addition, your sixth sense can help you notice repeated text. I’ve edited more than one book in which the author inadvertently included the same sentence or even an entire paragraph more than once within the same chapter or in two different chapters. In such a case, your sixth sense says, “Hmm—that text sounds awfully familiar.”

Today it’s easier than ever to use technology to aid your editor’s sixth sense by checking out suspect text. It’s easy to search the file(s) you’re working on for repeated text and for inconsistencies in the spelling and use of terms, acronyms, and people’s names. You can use the Internet for occasional quick fact checking. (I also sometimes do online searches to learn more about a subject that the author mentions only briefly. Or when the author uses a term, acronym, or abbreviation that I haven’t heard of, I’ll look it up to see what it means.)

Take a moment to test your own sixth sense. Can you spot the mistake in each of the following sentences?

  • In a speech made in 1960, John F. Kennedy challenged the U.S. to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
  • In 1964 a group of mop-top teenagers from Liverpool, England—Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—took America by storm with their engaging brand of rock ’n’ roll.

In the first sentence, JFK made this statement in 1961, after he became president. In the second sentence, the Beatles were not teenagers in 1964. In February of that year, when the Beatles began their first U.S. tour, Starr and Lennon were 23, McCartney was 21, and Harrison was 20.

I remember the JFK example from a book I edited a couple years ago. I was pretty sure that Kennedy introduced his man-on-the-moon vision early in his presidential career, not while he was still a candidate. I thought maybe it had been a part of his inaugural address. But when I looked it up, I found that he made this remark in a speech before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961. Concerning the second example (taken from an article in Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Fall 2002), I happen to know a lot about the Beatles. But I suspect that even someone with limited Beatle knowledge might wonder if they were really just teens when they arrived in America.

If you’re considering becoming an editor, certain traits can help you develop your editor’s sixth sense:

  • Being well-read
  • Having a wide range of knowledge
  • Interest in a variety of topics
  • Curiosity
  • Attention to detail

Having a good memory also comes in handy!