Romantic Life Lessons, Writing Tips

25 Things I’d Tell Myself If I Joined Publishing Today–The COVID Edition

Four years ago, I ambitiously worked up 50 things. Even 25 things is a massive undertaking and pandemic attention span says no way can I do this. Just resist the lists, people. Or say yes to an amber liquid on the rocks first.

Because of pandemic(s), there are things you won’t tolerate anymore. Honor the new truths that blossomed out of way too much tragedy. Knowing your boundaries will help you navigate any industry that tries to suck your well dry.

Balance the boundaries with an amazing show of skills–consistently. It will freak everyone out.

It’s easy–and temporarily satisfying–to get angry on social media at the many injustices in publishing, especially when you are doing more for less. Like Charmins toilet paper, you are nine rolls smushed into a four-roll package for thirty cents less. That’s publishing–and most corporations. Social media is one of the few places where you can let it rip. Do that–and take concrete action to further yourself: job search, join a group that does active things and speaks truth to power.

One of the best ways to succeed is to figure out every nook and cranny of your job and your boss’s. Anticipate the needs of your manager and conquer what they don’t even realize they need. A lot of knowledge is power, not to mention swagger.

It’s okay to edit late at night while heavily medicated or intoxicated. Just go over it again in the morning. Don’t tell anyone.

Reward yourself RICHLY for every accomplishment. Also, as I said in Fifty Things, write it down immediately. Not only do you have a living document of your achievements, but you can also relive how great you are at times when you really need it. There’s no greater pleasure than whipping out your Scroll of Excellence for The Aboves. Even though they won’t read it, message received.

Make friends/be friendly with anyone in Managing Editorial/Production departments. They are the best.

In life and at work, there is always someone you can’t stop loving even though they’re unvaccinated. But you shouldn’t have to work in the same office with them.

Avoid assholery of any kind, even though it’s tempting to engage because real life can be damned boring. This is not the 1950s or the 1980s or even 2020 anymore. Mad Men is just so…gross. You absolutely don’t need to bear the degradation of anyone’s bad behavior. Keep careful notes and visit HR as often as you need.

The best way to get through a remote workday is to break down the day by half hours (like Hugh Grant does in About a Boy) and take many window-shopping breaks. Bonus points for suggesting makeup tutorials to me since that is my heroin.

Always wait at least a day before answering a pissy email from a “professional,” especially the kind who doesn’t give two shits if you’re wheezing with COVID.

It doesn’t matter what you wear to work anymore, but it kind of does.

Email triage is a sick, twisted game corporations dreamed up to raise your cortisol levels, especially as we remote. Don’t fall for the flimsy communication with the human types we miss. As noted by work gurus, hyper-email-vigilance negates productivity.

Stay in touch with your work buddies who are resigning. It doesn’t have to be a daily email. Over a long career, you will see each other again and why not have more friends?

When applying for a job or sending a submission, write a charming and targeted cover letter. Even if they don’t ask for one. They are more fun to read than a resume.

Everyone’s social skills have deteriorated. Maybe there’s one person who hasn’t been affected by this whole mess, but let’s believe they are crying softly in a dark corner the way I was last week.

Many things can be accomplished by turning off all electronics and jotting down ideas on paper. It’s so simple it’s crazy.

You don’t have to explain why you listened to every second of the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard trial. As an editor, you need to know everything. Plus, you’re kind of a lawyer.

Always have a question in your pocket, but use it wisely and not just as the meeting is ending. Exception if your meeting is with one person, who is likely desperate to prolong human contact so please keep talking with the more questions.

Never ingest things from communal fruit plates, bins, urns, refrigerators unless you know exactly where the grub has been, who touched it, and in what century.

Get back to reading for pleasure. This can be one of the first things to go, but very easy to pick up again.

Do keep track of whether or not Kim Kardashian finishes law school. Your laser focus on this is everything.

Don’t beat yourself up for keeping twelve different notebooks tracking different versions of the same thing. I see you.

If you can envision working in a field other than publishing, investigate further. That quiet jotting-down-ideas thing works really well for this. Sometimes you don’t know another path even exists.

But if you love books and editing, you might be stuck with this complicated soulmate. Publishing is going through things right now–though it’s always been like a mission to Mars via roller coaster. Take a hard look at the years ahead. Do you believe in the work you are doing? Will you ever make a livable wage? This is where you pull out the self-awareness and determine what you want, what you can bear, and what you can do for books.

Now excuse me while I go back to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

Writing Tips

5 Ways to Outsmart the Editor

This past December, the list of “read immediately” submissions was longer than my winter scarf. We masochists love a challenge, especially if it involves staring at words. Reading for eons is a pleasure–not to mention my job.

I tackled this assignment because it was the end of the year and that’s what vacations are for. Open doc, read, make notes, decide yay, nay, or maybe. I got into a zone. Sometimes it took two pages or a whole chapter before I knew the verdict. After years of urging writers to focus on the whole book, not just the first three chapters, I’ve changed my mind. With our increasingly complex world of fast vs. thorough, we are in an age of just-get-me-through-the-door. On the traditional publisher path, here is what a writer might face.

I am a meaner reader than I used to be. It takes less time for me to decide if I want to keep reading, which is why I am now urging writers to pay extra special attention to those opening pages. Time is limited. Even as I write this, I am distracted by a new Cynthia Rowley sweater. It’s important that you grab an editor’s eye quick–and keep it. Read on, and don’t be distracted, not even by this.

Tip 1: Make that first paragraph, first page count, even if it drives you to eat twenty of these. Elmore Leonard has a helpful list of writing rules. Every little bit helps, right? I’m not a stickler, but weather descriptions are a bore unless you’re in an elevator and you have no idea what to say to your neighbor. And don’t be distracted by everyone’s tips, even these really good ones!

In this vein, if you start off with dialogue, it better sparkle like Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. No mundane comments, like “How does this dress look on me?” Start with a big moment, without throwaway lines. Instead of showing off a dress, maybe she sees a dead body on her doorstep; her test says Not Pregnant which is funny given the kicking in her stomach; as she walks down the aisle, she notices the man she actually wants to marry and he’s officiating the wedding…and you have no idea who your groom is. Or you can knock your reader’s socks off with irresistible points of view (Hello, every Kristan Higgins novel).

Tip 2: So I hear you detail your car. Do that with your first three chapters. Go over every sentence. Every word. Every feeling, movement, description, conversation. Is there balance and flow? Do you repeat “very” and “definitely” and “actually”? As your editor shrink, I suggest you and your book become intimately involved. Does your voice shine through? Do you find cohesion in your plot? This is the moment when you pare away unnecessary sentences, without going overboard. Bribe yourself with treats (candy, beer, cat nip) all the way through.

Tip 3: I love a romance checklist, though you can distill all advice into one question: Will your reader care? If you have those first three chapters the way you want them, have gone over them a million times, and you definitely feel, Yes, my reader (and future editor) will care, you could be ready. But read the next tip first.

Tip 4: Pretend you’re at a glamorous reading for your book. Your hair/makeup are perfect. You manage to appear scholarly and hip at the same time. You have the voice of Maggie Gyllenhaal or Colin Firth. Read your chapters out loud to an audience. As you listen, mark down parts that don’t sound right. Fix them! Read that part again like it’s your audiobook.

Tip 5: During writer/editor pitches, if the story appeals to me, I ask for the complete manuscript and a synopsis. So yeah, it’s better if your book is done. It shows you can write a complete book. But between us girls, you really should have those first three chapters polished and shimmering with wit. Readers like me will likely make a decision based on your beginning. If the writing is solid, she or he will eventually request the complete story. Send three chapters, synopsis and, while you’re waiting for an answer, get that complete manuscript in order.

Bonus Tip: Don’t worry that the editor has read so much and you can’t compete in the slush pile. You totally can! Even after reading 30 submissions, editors will keep reading if #31 is page-turning. We are professionals so we don’t reject an amazing story if we’re in a bad mood. A great book makes the editor forget the real world.

You made it through. It’s now time to work on the beautiful adventure that is your book. Do not click on this harmless yet tempting link.

I am waiting.