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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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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.

 

 

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Still in the Rabbit Hole

I should be writing about writing or even editing but I confess to a one-track mind, as depicted on the most recent Real Housewives of New York City. 100% of the time, my life bears no resemblance to a housewife’s but this season, I feel Carole Radziwill‘s pain. In the first episode, she recounts going down the rabbit hole during the presidential campaign (and I assume afterwards since I check her twitter constantly). Friends, I’m still there, just like Carole. It’s hard to wean myself off news, especially with the Constant Chaos. And all the damn bombs! It’s like high school again, only the chubby psychopath* is launching missiles instead of dissecting a fetal pig in Biology class.

My self-destructive days are over, and I’m determined to climb out. Here is what I’ve done so far:

  • I went through all my shoes and threw out 7 pairs I haven’t worn in years. And bags. So many bags. Sad bags–gone.
  • You know that button that needs sewing on the shirt you never wear? Did that.
  • Volunteered for another project at work. It’s really dumb how I keep raising my hand and, sometimes, I regret it the instant my hand comes down. Work is a fabulous distraction–and it lasts longer than Designated Survivor. I figure that after twenty years, I sort of know what I’m doing no matter what the mental state. And this time, while I’m meeting deadlines, I actually feel good about being plugged in to the world.
  • I’ve cooked three meals since November. That’s better than 0, which was my score for most of 2009-2016 (i.e. the second Sam darkened my door). You know I’m desperate if I go to the grocery store and offer to make dinner. The pork chops were inedible. Still, overachieving in the food department.
  • I text and Snapchat my brother and high school friend Nici all the time now. Stupid stuff. Usually, I keep to myself. They must think I’m crazy.
  • The little things help every day: going to the gym, checking my Google alerts on Gwen & Blake’s relationship, watching/listening to Sam talk to his brother on the phone, bugging my mother,  a new fountain pen

And there’s the fact that I wrote my first blog post in three months. That’s another step forward (or backward if you’re reading this).  Here’s hoping for some peace and quiet in the world soon. And if not, I am ready–eyes and ears open. If you have any good tips on how to cope with current events, please share! Except giving up sugar is not an option….

*There is more than one, isn’t there?

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Happy 6th Anniversary to Us!

I never t10154130_1420895221503269_7061014535412761438_nhought I would meet the right person. By my early forties, I got tired of hearing, “It’ll happen when you least expect it.” I hate to say it, but this wound up being true! And I would add: My mind was blown by the surprise identity of my groom. You never know, and because this applies to many aspects of life, I have hope even as the world seems to be crumbling around us.

So Happy Anniversary to serendipity, the person you don’t see around the corner, persistence, the fight, and of course, to the fun and healing properties of l’amour.

I love you, Sammy from Miami, King of Hope and Joy.

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Show Me What You’ve Got, 2017

The way to bring good energy into this year is to flirt with it. 2017, your numbers are so attractive. 2+1+7 = 10, which translates into a 1. You’re a winner, 2017.

And a winner would let the following occur:

Keep these celebrities alive: Duran Duran, Helen Mirren, Chic, Blake & Gwen, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, basically anyone–and their children. Seriously, if you touch Simon, Nick, John, and Roger, we are done.

Be nice to my family and friends. There are a few who have tested the gods and are still breathing due to sheer will. Allow them to prosper.

Help me get off the couch and turn off the TV. I don’t need to be Oprah and have a “Year of Adventure.” Just more nights out with Sam, who enjoys the Pâté de Campagne at Le Singe Vert and, to be honest, their Manhattans are really good.

Encourage me to work smarter. I already work hard. Show me what I could do and what is just more nonsense.

Let there be a constant supply of earplugs at Duane Reade. The plugs block out someone’s snoring.

Make me even more aware of how spectacular my husband is–if it’s possible–and if I’ve reached that cap, guide me toward how to make him happier and healthier. He deserves every good thing.

This might be a big ask, 2017. It’s not crucial, but one of those problems that accumulates over time. Find it in your heart to re-introduce me to Sweet Morpheus. We have not been in sync since before 9/11.

During the editing process, give me the discipline to avoid starting sentences with “and” or “but,” as I do above.

Show me how to let loose, as in a new drinking game every time someone says, “actually,” “really,” or “literally” on The Voice and Chopped.

Let it sink in that a compliment followed by a “but” is bullcrap.

Nudge me when I use “so” too much. I’m not 15 anymore.

Of course, I welcome a return to graphomania. This is no time to be quiet…about anything!

Put a potion in Sam’s drink so that he’ll say yes to a kitten. We don’t have children. A fluffy kitten won’t hurt anyone. Yes, the litter smells but there are sophisticated new blends that will make our apartment smell like Chanel No. 5.

And lastly, because Salieri’s rant in Amadeus sticks with me, show me how to rise above mediocrity. It’s so easy to coast in that lane, especially with a giant peanut butter Lenny & Larry cookie and a Lt. Joe Kenda marathon on ID. As 2016 has shown has, there doesn’t seem to be much time left. Why not go for it?

I’m counting on you, 2017, to show me the way. I want to smile like these jackasses* all year long.

*Did I mention how much I love a good jackass?

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Goodbye to 2016, the Year of No Fear

My year started with a celebration: 25 years of extra life. I didn’t say anything except quiet wishes to my friend (sister) who was with me one horrible night in early January. We are both thriving now, but it took a while, at least for me.

Then, I had a long flight for work, one I’d been sweating. Like Guinness, I don’t travel well and lose my bubbles. But when your boss shows confidence in you by sending you places, you say yes. Meeting with writers is fun for me. They feed you cheesecake and regale you with stories. All I have to do is get on the damn plane.

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We went to my thirtieth high school reunion in May, which was nice, low key, and I felt very fat. I thought that red dress would be roomier, but it wasn’t. More on my inexplicable weight gain from eating cookies below. %*$&%*! As you can see in the pic below, I’m half in love with my friend Di, who is mentioned in my book. She is a gifted artist and so full of the same warmth, moxie, and wisdom. Plus, she is rocking some serious braids. I wish she lived next door.

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I threw a surprise party for my darling husband, Sam. He had no idea what was coming and it blew him away. Maybe my favorite moment of the year, watching him walk in and see us. This whole marriage thing is pretty cool.img_1968

Sam–a French prof–decided it would be great to take students to Paris. Sure, you do that. Okay, so I managed to get on that plane again (thank you, Delta, for the amazing service). I went to France because when your husband turns 50 in Paris, you get on the damn plane to meet him there. We had an amazing time. The butter!!!

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I flew three more times after that. My fear of travel is now gone. It happened gradually until one travel day, as I strapped myself in the seat, I thought, “Oh this again.” No big deal. I ditched the tranquilizers and now just listen to music and knit. I’ll go anywhere. Except on a boat. Or a prop plane. Hate those.

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My childhood friend got hitched and I love her and her family. I rediscovered that warm fuzzy of seeing someone again and remembering deep bonds and memories. Here are some flowers from her big day.fullsizerender-003

This year, I rediscovered food. It’s weird, but food tastes good again after 25 years of not caring (and being thin). What happened? Were my tastebuds released from jail? Long story too long, I gained 15 pounds. I’m so startled not to fit in most of my clothes that I’ve upped my running. Love handles on me are not okay!

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Part III. August. As you get older, lifting weights becomes more important. Plus, I couldn’t open a jar of pickles, so I signed up with a trainer. On good days and bad days, M kicks my butt and I always feel better afterwards. (I’m not James Corden, btw)mgid-ao-image-mtv-com-207885It all seemed to be going okay, until…do I have to say it?

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On November 9, the fear came rushing back. The embodiment of my nightmares will be in office. How did that happen? I feel sick just seeing his face or hearing him talk–and I’m so so so angry. You can’t tell this broad to move on or accept the outcome. It runs too deep for many of us. I like that people think differently but this election was different–and not in a way that celebrates our differences.

It would be easy to stay indoors and sleep through the next four years. I’ve thought about it. What a waste, though. We can be a community of survivors, right? I will start by bidding au revoir to 2016. You’ve put us through a lot and I’m grateful for the lessons. Maybe not grateful in a gratitude way, but I get why things happened and how I can learn from them. But did you have to kill Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and David Bowie?

Sam and I are ending the year with a nasty bug that has left us bed-ridden and watching The Sopranos. We will recover from all upsets, sinus, stomach or the caustic Orange kind, and 2017 will be about badassery and La Resistance. Stay tuned.