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Fifty Things I’d Tell My 22-year-old Self If I Went into Publishing Today…

There is a lot that I don’t know about my profession and roles I haven’t had. BUT never underestimate a good observer. If I had to do it over, I would likely do everything the same way–with a few revisions.

So you’ve chosen publishing. Applaud yourself for this excellent decision (It’s way less depressing than academia. Sorry, Mom).

Resign yourself to being financially destitute but in a profession where you can read, which enriches the soul.

Most people in publishing love books, so you will find kindred spirits on every floor.

You will find wretched humans, too. They are either wounded or giddy about being wretched. They are not worth tears (definitely alcohol).

Wear a suit (or close) during an interview. Even though publishing houses can be casual, save it for Friday. There’s always the chance you’ll be called in for an interview at the last minute and you’re wearing your favorite jeans (I was so embarrassed).

Watch the parade of engagements, marriages, pregnancies. Maybe it’ll be you someday or maybe not. Either way, never miss free cake and champagne.

Twitter! Instagram! Okay, I’m not sure what to say about it. The boundaries are not clear. Just be smart in your usage. Not every picture should be of you in a bar, holding mega-drinks.

Oh, and if you feel the urge to cryptically diss your boss/company/author on social media, don’t do it. Your followers will want more information, it might get back to the wrong person, and once the wine wears off, you will regret it.

No matter how comfortable you feel communicating, keep a degree of formality in your emails to people, especially those you don’t know well and especially those above you in the org chart. Use Dear So-and-So or even (ugh) Hi, So-and-So, etc… Sign off using your name.

The longer the email, the more likely people won’t read it. Be succinct, but not too succinct.

And if the person is in the office and it’s a quick question, go over and interact with them, unless that colleague is a total misanthrope (that exists).

Figure out early on if you like to house-hop or stay in one (or two) places. Ambition comes in various forms.

Within the publishing realm, consider what you love most: editing itself, marketing, writing, working with authors and agents, networking across all landscapes. Specialize or generalize. The world is yours.

You may have a passion that isn’t your exact job in publishing. That’s okay. If your job abuts your passion (now there’s a book title), it can work out pretty well. The key is not showing that your Big Dream is a real priority–unless you have an imminent exit strategy. In life, you can excel at more than one thing. You can dream big and still be happy in your job (and do well in it). Human beings are complex!

Everything changes. Your office won’t be the same in five years or five years after that — just like high school.

You have special talents, but you can be replaced before the body is cold.

That doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid. But if you’re like me, you worry. Work with the paranoia and do an honest assessment of your skills, what else is out there, and how you will land on your feet.

Communicate with those at your level. It is useful to know how work is divvied up, how other managers operate, and discuss your career trajectory. A support network will be a source of strength.

There is true joy to helping a writer through her story.

Say yes to everything your manager asks (obviously, not theft or murder). It’s very simple. Managers need a lot of stuff done. Do stuff. Better yet, develop psychic powers to know what your manager will need next.

“Be yourself” isn’t always helpful as a motto. If you work for someone whose personality doesn’t mesh with yourself, learn to co-exist (where you appease your boss, who may not be your boss after five years). It will help you get along with anyone.

A positive attitude–to me–is more valuable than intellect, especially if consistent.

Pulling an all-nighter to present your 100-page mostly opinion-based report is just silly. Having facts and doing careful research will ensure a good night’s sleep.

Work hard to get over any fear of public speaking, even if you pride yourself on being The Quiet One. Practice really helps. If you learn to excel at this, your company will rely on you more and this will result in exciting opportunities.

Gossip is a guilty pleasure but it can also be a label that you never shed in the office.

If you can take the occasional work-at-home day, do it! Burnout is real.

Know when to leave the your boss’s office. Lingering to tell that funny story may be annoying (or funny, it depends). It’s difficult to strike the balance between avoiding your boss and overstaying. Somewhere in the middle is good.

You can work very hard all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will go far. Sometimes, the opposite is true. Working on five books at once means that you’re the girl who works on five books at once (and tells everyone about working on five books at once). The person next to you might be working on six along with networking like a fiend. Finding a new project or getting involved in another way can be more impressive than volume. That said, busting your butt is essential for this job.

Not everyone will like you and that’s a statistical fact. Often, it’s not personal. If it is, don’t sweat it. You have work to do.

Read everything.

There are ways to read everything without reading everything. Discover your ideal reading speeds, such as: Speed 1–author’s book, you should pay attention Speed 2–synopsis because you can always read it later. Speed 3–slush–if good, will automatically slow to Speed 1. Speed 4–that book everyone is talking about and you have to discuss it in a meeting. First three chapters, middle and last chapter okay. Enough so that you have a couple of good points.

Resentment of someone else’s success is a waste of time. Even if physically painful, congratulate that person. You’ll have to contort yourself into many unnatural states to praise others or their concepts. You’ll have your own moments of triumph.

Only apologize once per screw-up. Try not to screw up, but trying too hard might make you screw up. Failure is inevitable. Just stay in your workspace and read as this is Ground Zero for earning your boss’s love.

Your notes to authors should have an even, professional tone (though with praise, writers often appreciate hearts, smiley faces, and exclamation points)

Avoid starting sentences with “I think,” especially with revision letters or reader reports to your manager. We already know that this whole game is subjective.

Don’t casually drop S or F bombs in meetings until you’ve been with the company at least ten years or your role is Queen of Publishing. There are exceptions, like when you spill coffee on yourself or if the subject matter involves profanity. Then curse to your heart’s content.

Authors can see through criticism sandwiched between compliments. Consider letting both stand alone. You can be critical and diplomatic at the same time.

This is terribly ageist but some writers may resent a younger editor (even if you’re very, very qualified and not much younger). Find a way to win her over.

If you feel depressed about the career you have chosen, hang in there. Joy comes and goes in phases–if you’re lucky. Something exciting will come along and recharge your batteries. But if you feel hopeless about your future, find creative ways to grow within your job. Or change jobs.

Observe but don’t get involved in Twitter wars unless you know all the facts for both sides and understand the risk of engagement.

Being the first one in and the last one out might be expected. Sometimes, you’ll have a boss who wants you to have normal working hours but still get all the work done. Either way, flexibility is awesome.

Plan ahead for technical difficulties with your PowerPoint presentation. Old school works just as well–or even better if you can be charming.

The printer and/or copy machine will break down. Learn to tear both machines apart.

Read submissions within a reasonable amount of time. Publishing houses are busy, but writers support them and they have lives, too. If someone asks you the status of a manuscript after a few months, get to it ASAP. Don’t be the black hole where submissions go to die.

During meetings, if you’re one to fidget, sit next to the most intimidating person in the room. You’ll stop fidgeting because you’re too scared to move.

We all have our sketchy attendance periods, but reliability is a gift from the gods. Just show up.

Don’t hesitate to ask about opportunities for promotion during your performance review. It shows you want a promotion. Not everyone does.

Knowing some basic number crunching is advised.

Stay in touch with the friends who leave the company. You will run into them again.

Keep an ongoing list of your accomplishments. You will be amazed by how much you do, and it’s a handy list to give your manager.

When everything is falling apart (landmarks, governments, personal life, the flu), working on a book is excellent therapy.

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Romantic Life Lessons

A Cat At Last

We are no longer cat-less. My blog silence on this topic was to protect Yossi’s privacy. No, he doesn’t care. The truth is that it’s hard to upload pictures stuck on my phone. I have to send it to my regular computer and then go through all the hoops to bring it onto the blog. A young whippersnapper would simply write this post on her phone. But I’d have to find my password, which means rifling through papers somewhere. I am turning 50 this year (my new excuse). My slow pace up and down the subway steps? Laziness over technology issues? 50.

Back to Yossi’s origin story with The Blooms. I went to the ASPCA on Friday, December 22, 2017, in search of a kitten. My brother and his husband Carlos–cat lovers–came with me on my mission. The volunteers were super-friendly, conducting an interview on the spot. They did not try to persuade me to adopt an older cat or to take two kittens (I had my reasons to refuse ready). I love them.

There were several adorable kittens I could have taken home until Carlos pointed out this unassuming grey jewel in the bottom row. He was “found” at 5 weeks and originally named “Midori.” I took the little guy out and we bonded instantly. Where do I sign?

My husband didn’t think his getting a robot litter box meant we would actually get a cat, so when I called him at work to let him know I’d found our Yossi, he seemed surprised, wondering how I was bringing “it” home.

Back at the manse, I opened the carrier to cat-human felicity. It didn’t take long for him to start licking Sam’s beard, for them to have Fetch Mouse morning exercises, and chase each other around the apartment.

Three months later, if he’s not within arm’s reach, we go in search of him. I have sacrificed my ergonomic desk chair for his sleeping comfort. He waits at the door for us, tries to climb up our legs. Yossi is friendly to strangers and will sleep on your lap for hours.

I wonder what would add to his happiness. Another mouse toy? More string? Maybe promising never to dress him in little outfits.

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Patience’s Book Reviews

You won’t find a long-winded, in-depth, or even literate dissection/summary of what I read. Just what I think! I’ll try not to use the self-aggrandizing compliment/insult sandwich tactic but it’s difficult since books are a mixed bag. Please know that if I list a book here, it affected me in a positive way. Because I read books for a living, I don’t have much time to read outside of work. I fight for every extra word I read. Here are the books that I am loving right now.

Lost Connections by Johann Hari

I saw this author on Bill Maher and ran to the bookstore (pressed click to buy). It’s a life-changer if you deal with depression. Many lives are so much better because of depression meds and I say Yay to that. Many deal with depression in non-Rx ways–and I say Yay to that. This book is a thoughtful, well researched, and heartfelt discussion of what can lead to depression and how reconnecting helps. I went into this feeling skeptical yet hopeful and, at the end, very motivated to get off the couch–even though the political landscape remains dismal. Be warned, it does not read like a self help book. This girl usually loves an easy fix with quick answers, but here, I got data, examples, experts, and a strong narrative.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman needs to read Lost Connections. God help me, I love a drunk agoraphobic protagonist so I read every page with sheer delight–well, except for where the villain is revealed and you get that “I did this because of this and in this way and now you’re going to die. Ahahahaha.” Then again, I read so much suspense that you can’t shock me anymore. I am digging for the bad guy from pg. 1, even with an unreliable narrator, so no surprises here. And yet, this writer is masterful with his twists, characters, and nods (more than nods, outright hugs) to movie classics. A gorgeous character study that will resonate with those who prefer to stay indoors at all times (I’m not naming names). I bought the hardcover, read it, then hauled it in to work to loan to a colleague. Colleague read it and gave it back to me. Because I didn’t want to carry it home, I loaned it to someone else. How dare these authors write beyond the usual 250 pages!

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

I’ve been too intimidated to tackle Oates–I took no English classes at Oberlin, there I said it–but considering that I have a milestone birthday coming up (effing fifty!) and she’s a must-read, what the hell am I waiting for? Now that I’ve started Blonde, I’m wondering why it took me so long. This will take forever for me to finish because I want to savor it all. Blonde is just lovely prose, a  journey on every page. I can almost see the author blasting away, immersing herself in description. “Norma Jeane” comes to life. I’m only on p. 53 out of 700+ so it could take a tragic turn….

Jewels: A Secret History by Victoria Finlay

I didn’t care that much about jewelry until my husband gave me an engagement ring–my very first diamond. Now I love looking in the window of Barneys and seeing all the things I can’t buy. So much sparkle! I started with Stoned by Aja Raden (amazing!) and she mentioned Jewels. Here, Finlay delves into assorted vignettes of renowned stones: diamonds, amber, jet, emeralds, etc… Beautifully written and if you love history, travel, science, and gems, you might fall in love. I am only on the jet chapter, but considering I didn’t know that jet existed until now, my mind is already blown. Did you know that an insect caught in amber could be 10K years old? What other treasures do I have yet to discover?

Behold, gorgeous covers.

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How Do You Write When the World Is Falling Apart?

I can barely write this title because I’ll miss a second of news coverage. Here’s an update: Beeker has blown the whistle on Facebook data mining (no idea what this means) and a horse-riding, chest-baring dictator has won an “election” for the fourth time. In the U.S., leaders are running away, crumbling, getting sicker while others tread water, wondering if it’s really so bad. Some are working very hard to fight and keep the faith. If I sleep, I know I will miss something important.

This is sort of how I feel when I’m flying. Even though a few competent professionals have control over my life, the plane will crash if I fall asleep. Because I’ve never witnessed such chaos in my lifetime—sort of like the time I flew through three storm systems at once, thank you, Toronto to NYC October 2006–I must pay attention.

Our world is very different from what it was two years ago. With so much going on, creativity can either thrive or vanish. For a writer, a personal or external crisis affects that right brain (or is it left), which serves us so well on some occasions, then goes silent on others. As a writer, I know this. As an editor, I see this. As a human being, I want to understand how to safeguard my creativity during these very bumpy times.

It seems trivial, though, to worry about creativity or the state of one’s imagination. Kids and teachers are getting shot in schools. Basic human rights are being questioned, which seems to be an absurd trip backwards. Each day brings a new shock. So why get anxious about the inability to write?

There are several reasons:

The creative state feels the most normal to so many of us. Take it away and your zombie has won.

Shutting down the thinking, imagining brain for an extended period of time can turn into a habit, not necessarily a good one, i.e. a week of “coping” can turn into years. Some writers, like Anthony Trollope and romance writers, are highly disciplined. Many will stop to pick up a speck of dust, then mop the floors, then go out for a smoothie, then come home to realize the day is gone. These not-normal times only exacerbate one’s distractibility. I write this with love because I’m frequently distracted by dust—and Breaking News.

I won’t go into the medical repercussions of ignoring your creative urges. You know what they are.

I’d say this is the most important reason: Am I going to let Armageddon or a group of psychotic criminals take away my future legendary status? Absolutely not. Here’s where I get mad.

There is too much to do. Great theater to watch. Books to read. Books to write! Tap dancing classes to embarrass myself in. Cakes to bake not from scratch. Husband’s sunshine to bask in. Selfies to take. Restaurants to try. Walks to take. Moms to fuss over. Siblings to have church giggles with. Cats to purr with. Music to blow out eardrums to. Coffee to drink. Madeleine moments to have. Blog posts to post. Stories to dream.

There is life flashing in front of our eyes, which is why this is the moment to reclaim your writing and creative time:

Know that you may still be preoccupied with the crisis, i.e. watching a lot of CNN, checking Twitter, who used bad grammar to say what thing to whom? A total news fast is not recommended but if you can turn off the TV and social media for at least an hour, you’re a fierce warrior.

Schedule your creative time. I tend to set a clock or insist on a number of pages. If I’m too ambitious, I will not meet the goal so I do a little at a time, with dust-busting and cat-chasing sandwiched in there. If I do anything, I feel great.

As you notice the silence around you, thoughts might happen. It’s very strange. I went out for this walk, which is when you put one step in front of the other and the scenery changes in a three-dimensional way. My brain switched on. Taking advantage, I kept my devices off and got to work, digging out thoughts, one by one, and putting it on the page. You’ll be surprised by how much you have locked away. I remembered how to conjugate second conjugation Latin verbs.

Find a book that has nothing to do with what you write or what you read from day to day. Get lost in something totally different. For me, that’s been books about gems and how to boost my intuition, which I don’t think needs boosting, but it’s fun to dream that maybe I’m secretly Samantha from Bewitched.

Notice things on your own, without having them presented to you on a screen.

Repeat all of this, maybe not the next day but the day after. You can’t be perfect every day. Maybe you can, in which case, more chocolate for you.

For the 10% of energy you have left, by all means, I invite you to join me as I keep tuning in to our world and staying informed. If there’s ever a time when it’s understandable to be confused or outraged or paralyzed, it’s now.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be inspired, too.

Thanks for listening.

 

 

Writing Tips

Ramble On (but please edit), Brave Writers!

When I decided to be a great novelist, I knew exactly how to start my story. With me! And my Extraordinary and Very Rare experience of dating a tortured intellectual who drank…in college…and sometimes he was mean! This narrative went on for pages and pages. Oh, the pages! The fact that my pen glided so effortlessly across the paper meant I was genius and this story would capture the hearts of millions. I wasn’t even at the good part or even the beginning. By the time I was done, I had filled a notebook, one I couldn’t go back and reread because, I’ll be honest, it was a little boring. But someone else would find it fascinating!

And so I began my relationship with writing fiction. As an editor, with now daily experience in reading critically, I notice how rambling points of view can kill a story. Mind you, I still do this—go on and on for pages (or even blog posts). What one writer might consider fascinating character revelations, one editor might use as a sleeping agent.

Is this Rambling POV bad?

Only if you don’t edit it. Rambling POV is actually a good thing. It gets your brain moving and pushes you to free your imagination. In editing, you can make that point of view more succinct and targeted to your storytelling.

How do you know you have rambling POV?

Keep rereading what you have written. If you find yourself skipping over paragraphs, consider cutting those paragraphs. You might feel liberated. In case of regret, always save your drafts. If you have the energy to go back, cut and paste, your words were meant to stay.

When I read submissions, a common mistake is a rambling POV at the beginning. Too much of a good thing can bog down the pacing and a character with sass can quickly turn off an editor if the sass goes on forever before anything happens.

Just remember that all talk and no action renders your character a big snooze fest.

When can rambling POV be good?

In narrative nonfiction, it can be lovely. Though in this format, it’s not so much “rambling” as “telling a true, gripping story.” You can bet that the editor is looking at every word and trimming what comes off as rambling.

One way to tell rambling from elucidating prose is that it seems to be more about the author than about the reader. There’s a sense of “I so love my voice” or “I need to get this out before I move to the next thing” or “I’m writing so fast, this must be brilliant!” So, in the end, rambling POV can be good—as in, a good start, but amateurish if not done well.

How do you deal with rambling POV?

Understand from the beginning that may overwrite in places. Often, it’s to show your character. You can always go back and cut. In fact, you should go back and cut.

Think about how your character moves through the scene rather than thinks. We all think. It’s easy to share thoughts on a page. But what does your character do?

Don’t censor yourself from rambling. More writing is better than no writing.

Remember that most of the time, rambling doesn’t help. There are many exceptions, authors who do it brilliantly. Sophie Kinsella comes to mind. She can immerse you in her story with her rambling characters, who do very little but are ablaze with thought and insight, all of which is highly entertaining, at least to me! Those thriller writers with the unreliable narrators or fascinating protagonists, also pros at rambling POV. And good memoirists can go on and on with a purpose.

It’s always good to err on the side of knowing you’re probably not an exception, though maybe you are. It never hurts to experiment.

Back to important stuff: my “fictional” story about the alcoholic in college. Yeah, she’s sitting somewhere in my mother’s closet along with Teacher’s Pet, my attempt at writing a romance. And my master’s thesis, a truly rambling onus from the depths of Hades.

May you fare better than this. Go forth and ramble, experiment, and edit. And lastly, read the exceptions and learn.

 

Romantic Life Lessons

Tough Year, Still a Crazy Lucky Wife

At the beginning of 2017, I reasoned that we should adopt a cat because it would help offset the raging depression sure to come after the inauguration. You said no. I asked if I needed to be gravely ill before we finally got a cat. Don’t be silly, you said. It was a shameful thing for me to suggest (a few times) and you didn’t fall for it.

Accepting this pet-less fate, I went along with my year, so focused on current events that I couldn’t have spared love for anyone else. You are sort of right about everything (except MSNBC is amazing, no matter what you say). Would an adorable, twitchy feline make the horror go away? Or in that never-ending trigger-fog, would I remain absent, as I’ve been most of this year? It’s one thing to be alert, and another to be obsessed with that darkness. I don’t expect to be perfect, but I am aiming for better.

Despite an ever-present Apocalypse and that distant cat dream, I have much to be thankful for. You are healthy, no matter how many “procedures” you threaten to have. And now my mother has an iPhone, which means I can text her frantic emoji-filled texts. My knitting bag is full, a hobby that prevents that disastrous trip to the deli for candy. My job of twenty years keeps me busy in a way that is comforting and absorbing. Friends and family, lovely. I am writing. Most of all, I’m grateful for you.

Exactly eight years ago, when I thought my life was plodding along quite well, I took a fun detour, meeting you for our first date after a twenty-six-year gap. From there, everything changed and I found myself on an even wider path with off-shoots, wildlife, and adventures that make me glad to be alive. Thank you, Sam, for bringing such joy to my life, even though it’s very irritating that you know me so well. As I write this you are watching football, using my stability ball as an ottoman and eating my fries–a sight that is very dear to me. And thank you for the $500 litter box you showed up with a few days ago.

I love you madly!

Writing Tips

10 Reasons Why You Should Write that Book

1. It engages your brain. How easy it is to sit and let others entertain you. If you’re like me, you want to sit on the couch and take the easy way out of writing: watch a movie or hours of reality TV. Because mama is tired. She’s so tired of the idiots fighting, the long hours, and oh me, I just need a break. I’m not saying that these are wrong, but they can keep you from getting back in the chair. So, let’s put down the Snickers and say, “Extended breaks and self-care are good. But it’s time to put my creative genius to work.” Hop to it!

2. Why not expound on your favorite topic? I really love cake. Someday, I’ll write a story about cake, but until then, I love reading about cake! May the gods bless cookbook authors and the chefs creating desserts on TV. I also love knitting, astronomy, jewelry, celebrities, romance, cooking shows, and serial killers–maybe even in the same story. I know exactly where to turn to get my fix: a writer like you. Show us readers something delicious–and dangerous!

3. That life is too short thing. My grandparents told me that watching TV was worthless. That said, they clocked at least four hours daily of Wild Kingdom, nightly news (aka The Murder Show), The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Search for Tomorrow (aka Search). At the end of the road, you may have a better story to tell than the ones parading in front of you. Think about it.

4. Don’t we have enough short form outrage right now? You know what I’m talking about. Believe me, I’m there, too. Twit/Face/Inst (short form) eats up whole days, months, and the more informed I am, the stupider I feel. Social media has a hold on me and I need to be plugged in at all times. There are so many better words we could be writing. Take your life back, writers!

5. If you’re reading this, you might identify yourself as a writer. I caught you red-handed! Don’t worry, I’ll keep your secret for now. In the meantime, show me I’m right and get yourself in that chair. I hear Nanowrimo is next week (wink wink). So, sure, you have your day job or whatever, but you’re a writer. You’re a writer. Say it over and over again, then stop and write. 

6. Writing a book is an actual accomplishment. It’s one of those empirical beliefs that finishing a book is a big deal. Not many people can write a book. But you can. Maybe you have. Or you just feel strongly that you can. Write one page, then another, etc… Eventually, if you keep pushing, you will get to the end. There will be MANY DISTRACTIONS. It’s okay because you’ve got support and talent and persistence in your DNA. Do the work and get to the end.

7. Living vicariously can be a whole lot of fun. I don’t know about you but sometimes I like to pretend that I could be a moviestar–like completely overhaul my wardrobe and makeup situation and try to act! Or that I’m a psychic 32-year-old shopgirl who heals people. Or a sweet middle-aged manager who plots a murder, then actually goes through with it. This is when I shut out the real world and start tapping furiously on my computer. Am I right to think you have an awesome life/story/character that you like to dream about? 

8. Because a world without creativity, well, let’s not even go there. The more we scroll for that quick fix, the more our attention spans and imaginations die. What would our lives be like without books? I’d be sitting on the couch. Oh, and unemployed. Think about that. An existence without those great classics, those romances, those writers conferences. Can you feel the emptiness? The world needs you.

9. Don’t you have something to say? Everyone I’ve ever met has something to say, even (especially) those who pass under our radars. So many stories out there! You may be that quiet person who thinks she’s nothing special. Or the opposite. At each end of the spectrum and everywhere in between, you have an experience, an imagination, and a message.

10. You will change someone. It’s unrealistic to think that you don’t affect someone else’s life. If you’re a writer—and I suspect you are—you know which writers have changed you. If I hadn’t read Mario Puzo’s Fools Die, I’m not sure I’d be sitting here writing this. Reading Emile Zola helped me understand that I never wanted to live as a drunk in 19th Century Paris. And Penny Jordan’s romances helped me find a better path (and a way not to fail my history exam). Just think of the good you can do for someone by the story you have inside you. It’s time. Don’t you think?