KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


An end table created by My Husband the Master CabinetmakerWell, knock my socks off, color me tickled pink, and pop the cork on the champagne bottle! Ed just successfully closed negotiations on a 3-week kitchen refinishing project.

On Saturday, January 3, he'll pick up a check for a 50% down payment and start work. Now, it's just one gig, and it's not a huge one, so he'll keep working nights at Walmart, but here's hoping that this gig is the raindrop that starts the flood that ends the almost-4-month dry spell.

Meanwhile, Ed had good prospects for a part-time job with Peapod, a grocery-delivery service that would pay better than Walmart (through customer tips), offer a better work schedule, and offer him a chance to work for managers who don't demoralize their employees. He'd already worked for Peapod once before, for a short while, until he tore an Achilles tendon back on Super Tuesday, so the company is already familiar with him and likes his work ethic. Here's the weird unfinished story about that potential job:

The interviewer told Ed that he wanted to hire him but that first Ed had to pass a urine drug test and a physical exam. Ed took the drug test; the physical exam was supposed to be scheduled after the drug test results came in. But days and days passed, and no phone call. Ed called the interviewer, who said, Don't worry; as soon as human resources passes along the results to me, we'll move things along. But then more days passed, and no phone call. Ed called again, to see what was up and to make sure that the guy knew that he was still interested in the job. The guy said that if Ed had flunked the drug test, he'd have been notified right away. Then he added that it was odd, but he was waiting on drug test results for several other potential drivers too, and those hadn't shown up. He said he'd look into it. No phone call for several days; by this point, it was almost Christmas. Ed called one more time, and the guy said, What—you don't think I'd call you if I had the results?! So Ed figures that (1) someone bungled things and lost a large group of test results, (2) it's right before New Year's and no one in management is going to do anything about the situation during the holidays, and (3) he can't call the interviewer any more without seriously pissing him off. It's a mystery.

So anyway, I'm much more inclined now to shout, "Happy New Year!" In 2009, may you all receive heaping helpings of joy, peace, friendship, and meaningful and financially worthwhile work ... and earn at least enough to keep a roof over your head and get the medical care you need.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

People Who Think They Know Everything

On a spinoff of an editors’ e-mail list, I wrote that the current mess of an economy has resulted in Ed's having to work for Walmart to bring in only a tiny income and that that and my income together weren't enough to allow us to continue to meet all of our financial obligations. A couple of listmates, one of whom is newly retired at 65 and the other of whom, at 70-something, has been retired for some time, preachily wrote that if only "people" were smarter with their money, if only "people" were frugal, this poor economy wouldn't have them in a fix.

Ed's own father, who is 73 and has never made a smart financial decision in his life, is blaming Ed's and my financial predicament on us. This is the same man who has been living in a beautiful apartment, built by Ed, within our house for a rent well below market value for years. So when those listmates from my father-in-law's age group started spouting the same garbage, I didn't take it too kindly. Yeah, there are people whose money goes through their pockets the way poop goes through a goose, but don't include me and my family in that group. Here is my response, with minor edits:
I'm tired of hearing from people who assume that everyone who has been hit hard by this poor economy is a profligate spender.

Before the bottom fell out of the economy, Ed and I were putting aside money into a savings account and into IRAs. We rarely made purchases, except for major repairs to our two paid-off vehicles, clothes for our children (dammit it all, they just keep growing), and food. We went out to dinner on our wedding anniversary and on Valentine’s Day—but not always even then. We did sometimes buy takeout. The shame!

We never went into debt for Christmas presents and birthdays; we always saved up for the few presents we did buy. We don't have the latest in electronics or cell phones, though Ed and I each have a cell phone. He needs his for when he's out installing cabinets. But I should give mine up. If one day the car that I'm driving breaks down, I could just sit there and hope that someone stops to help instead of violently relieving me of the car.

Oh—we usually went on a decadent one-week camping trip each summer. Even though one entire trip cost a lot less than hotel fees and cruise ship fares [which one of the posters who annoyed me pays on his vacations], we should've spent less.

Ed and I bought a home in 1994 from his parents, who could no longer afford the $1,200/month mortgage that included property taxes and home owner's insurance. Now those payments are $1,500/month, and that's for a dinky 1,400 square feet that we share with his parents: 4 adults and 2 children live here. Long Island (New York State) ain't cheap. Before the economic downturn, our home was valued at $364,000 and property taxes were more than $8,000/year. Who knows how low the value has sunk to now, but the property taxes and insurance premiums sure ain't gonna decrease. We shouldn't have gotten that home equity loan a couple of years ago to make major repairs to the house; the frugal thing to do would have been to let this 40-plus-year-old crappily built house rot.

We do have a cat, and the in-laws have a dog and a cat. I suppose we'd better kill them off or give them away to keep our expenses down. The children won't mind.

Unlike most other middle-class Americans, who have health insurance that is paid for by their employers or by the company or government jobs from which they retired, we pay in full the $866 monthly premiums for own health insurance; we have no employers to pay it for us. I suppose we should be frugal and drop that. Ed and both of our sons have AD/HD, for which they take expensive medication, only partly covered by insurance. I'm sure that they all decided to be born with AD/HD just to make us spend more money. They don't really need a therapist either, to coach them how to be less miserable when they try to make their square-peg selves fit into society's round-hole pegboard enough so that they can hold down jobs or not be perpetually bullied in school. They should just suck it up.

Ed probably asked his boss of 14 years to lay him off in October 2007. And then he bought equipment to outfit his own cabinetmaking shop, but I suppose that to be frugal, he should have opted to take 14 times as long as other cabinetmakers to produce the same amount of work by using ancient hand tools or broken-down 25-year-old tools instead of much more expensive newer electric tools. He probably bought all of that equipment, using funds from the business loan he took out, deliberately because his magic crystal ball told him that the economy was about to go belly up and he wanted to give us some hefty bills. He probably also put down hundreds of dollars apiece for several towns' home-improvement contractor licenses just so that he could give us more debt. And I know he obtained workers' comp, liability, and disability insurance policies for his company not to be law-abiding but just so he could throw away more money.

Oh, wait—I know! Ed could switch to a very-low-overhead profession like copyediting, and then we could save a bundle of money! But ... he can't spell his way out of a paper bag. Damn.

We're so sorry for having thrown our money about so irresponsibly. What were we thinking?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Out of Sync

It feels very odd being back at work today after spending Thursday through Sunday in a holiday haze. The kids are still home from school—and will be until after New Year's Day—so I still have a strong urge to goof off. It's so hard to get the brain cranked up when everyone's so relaxed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Joy to the World!

A child is born ...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Carol for You

Wee fish ewe a mare egrets moose

Monday, December 22, 2008

Segregation in Publishing and Bookstores

Traditional publishers and brick-and-mortar bookstores still limit the reach of black authors by basing their books' marketing solely on the fact that the authors and/or the preponderance of their books' characters are black and by targeting mostly black readers.

Says black author Carleen Brice, in a column in the Washington Post:
... The accepted wisdom of the publishing industry is that books by black authors should be marketed to black audiences; after that, hopefully, they will cross over to whites and others. This is what a writer friend of mine was told when she wrote her first book. Ten books later, she has yet to cross over, despite respectable sales and favorable reviews. Without that crossover success, she's having a hard time finding a publisher for her latest literary novel. One editor rejected her latest work with the comment that it was beautifully written, but since there hadn't been a new "breakout" African American author in years, she would have to pass on it.

It's not that black readers aren't buying books. According to the research firm Target Market News, which tracks African American consumer spending, black households spent an estimated $270 million on books in 2007.

But as my writer friend's situation and that of many others illustrates, it's extremely hard to have a viable career in publishing without support from a wider (read: not exclusively black) audience. And it's difficult for black authors, especially of literary fiction, to develop the buzz that sells books. White readers don't hear our books discussed generally (except, of course, the ones by heavy hitters such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and a few others). And without media exposure and water-cooler talk, they don't know which of our books they might like.

Publishers themselves are spending their precious marketing dollars targeting black readers specifically. "As editors and publishers we have to acknowledge that the base audience for these books are African American readers," said Stacey Barney, an editor with the Penguin imprint G.P. Putnam's Sons. "Once you've secured that base readership, then you can go after other markets for the book."

But securing that base readership is part of the problem. A trip to one of the major chain bookstores shows what Barney's talking about. Walk past the general fiction section, and you'll find the African American fiction section. The shelves there will be lined with all the same subjects you find in the rest of the bookstore. The one thing linking them is that the authors are black. It's very handy if all you read is fiction by black people. You can go right to your "special section." Someone like me, who enjoys a wider variety of reading, might look in both general fiction and the black fiction section. I'm black and would never feel out of place browsing in the black books section. A white reader, on the other hand, might not take that same look and might not know that the books exist at all....

It's long past time for publishers and bookstores to change these practices. Authors are authors, no matter what color their skin is.

And remember, it's National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give It to Somebody Not Black Month.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Where to Find Experienced Editorial Professionals

A publishing-related e-mail list to which I subscribe is discussing where to find editorial professionals—copyeditors, proofreaders, book designers, book cover designers, indexers, and page layout professionals.

The person who brought up the subject has her own small publishing business, and as a businessperson, she's looking to save money. She recommended that those in need of editorial professionals seek out web sites such as Elance.com to find low prices. But can you, as an author who wants to self-publish, get great editorial help there? No. This is what I wrote to the list:

In general, you won't find the most professional or experienced editorial professionals on Elance.com [or on other sites like it, such as Guru.com], because the way Elance is set up encourages freelancers to outbid one another, to the point of lowballing. Those rates may seem reasonable to you, but they're starvation pay for freelancers. With the rates that most projects go for on Elance, you'll often wind up with the inexperienced newbies and the less-talented freelancers whom few other people will hire. You'll be paying Walmart prices and expecting to get Saks Fifth Avenue work, but guess what you'll often get instead.

To put it another way, would you want your brain surgeon to have graduated at the bottom of her class, or would you want the most competent brain surgeon you can find?

Places to find more experienced and better qualified editorial professionals include the following:

These are some common rates you should expect to pay for various kinds of editorial services:

Friday, December 19, 2008

First Snowbear of the Season

Today we got the first snow of the season, and it won't officially be winter until Sunday. The prediction is for a total of 6 inches.

While I edited indoors, all of my guys were out in our backyard building a snowman. Except ... for some silly reason known only to my sons and husband, the snowman's head morphed from a person's head to a bear's head, though the body remained that of a chubby human. Neil took these shots of his dad and his brother, Jared.

Snowbear up close

Snowbear far away

Happy Birthday to My Middle Child

Happy fourteenth birthday to my sweet ninth-grader, Neil.

Of my three children, he is the only one whose birth gave me the actual physical sensation, right there in the hospital, that the world had tilted on its axis. I've always thought that that meant that he is destined to do something wonderful for the world as an adult. Whether that will be on a small scale or a large scale, I don't know. But he is both brilliant and good-hearted, and I am so pleased that the universe saw fit to lend him to me for a few precious years.

Time to Get Serious Sleep

I know I've been working too many hours for too many days in a row when I laugh at serious medical conditions.

I've been editing a medical book chapter on hemostatic resuscitation tonight—or rather, this morning—and I came across a list of the dire conditions that sometimes occur when a trauma patient is given a tranfusion of plasma only, instead of whole blood. They include TACO and TRALI, the latter of which I at first misread as TRAIL. Now, TACO stands for "transfusion-associated cardiac overload" and TRALI stands for "transfusion-associated acute lung injury."

Yep, serious stuff. But my overtired and silly mind offered me this thought: Oh, no! No plasma for me! Wouldn't want to end up going down the TRAIL with a TACO!

Definitely time for sleep. Serious sleep.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On Top of the World

Neil atop the blue spruce, looking down at his dadThis is how the top of the world looks from my neighborhood.

Every year, Ed decorates the giant blue spruce in our front yard, wrapping it around and around with strings of white Christmas lights. Here is how it always ends up looking. This year, he's running late because he's working the night shift at—sigh—Walmart because of the poor economy, so on most days, he has only a few hours of daylight in which to do his home maintenance stuff, not to mention Christmas decorating. So Neil, who'll turn 14 on Friday, is helping him a lot this year. It seems that Neil is as much a monkey as his father is, willing to climb absolutely anything. Neil took that photo from about two-thirds the way up the spruce, which after all of these years is probably about 50 feet tall. The person on the ground is Ed.

Monkey that Neil is, one still shot wasn't enough for him. So he shot a short video of our neighborhood as seen from up in the spruce. (Sorry for the poor quality; it was shot with a phone camera and I don't know how to edit video.) Note the ladder at the end—it's 40 feet tall. You don't want to know how the guys get to the very top to add a light-up star.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Editorial Perks

Earlier today, I had sent a Korean physician, one of my ESL (English as a second language) authors, my estimate for the cost of doing a substantive edit of his manuscript about a study he did of repair techniques for a particular type of femoral fracture.

For this project, I will be turning his Korean medical English into British medical English rather than the American medical English that I usually work with, because he wants to submit his manuscript to a British medical journal. I gave him the estimated price (at an hourly rate) in U.S. dollars and in KRW (Korean won) and the estimated turnaround time for two rounds of editing. It has been about a year since we last worked together, so I reminded him of how the process of reviewing my edits would work.

He replied, to tell me that he found the price and process agreeable:
Dear Katharine:

I like your job.

And I thought, You know, I do too. Thanks, Dr. H. You're one of the reasons.

Love's Dilemma

I'm not a fan of rap, but these lyrics ("Dilemma," by Captain Magik), pointed out to me by my brother's partner, Roger, are beautiful:

I dedicate this post to my brother, Wally, to Roger, and to all my gay and lesbian friends, relatives, and colleagues whose love should be celebrated, not ignored or attacked.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Breathtaking Sight

I looked out my bedroom window midmorning today and saw a hawk, which looked a lot like this one in coloration, swoop in and land atop my children's swing set in our backyard.

Too bad I didn't have a good camera ready. The bird was magnificent. And the sight of it reminded me how lucky I am to be a full-time freelancer. I never saw such wonderful beings when I worked in Manhattan. And because there were no bustling crowds around, the hawk took its time looking around, allowing me to observe its layers and variety of types of feathers.

Beautiful. I wish I knew whether the hawk lives nearby or was just stopping for a hare-hunting break.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

National Emergency: 12.5% Unemployed or Underemployed

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that its recent report to the Joint Economic Committee is "one of the worst jobs reports" it has ever given in its 124 years of existence. Bureau commissioner Keith Hall says that the country lost 533,000 jobs in November. But, says the New York Times, the actual percentage of those out of work or whose work hours have been cut is much, much higher:
More significantly, the unemployment rate [which is now 6.7 percent] does not include those too discouraged to look for work any longer or those working fewer hours than they would like. Add those people to the roster of the unemployed, and the rate hit a record 12.5 percent in November, up 1.5 percentage points since September.
In fact, not since December 1974, when I was 14 years old—the age that my oldest son now is—have this many people lost this many jobs in a single month. This is an emergency, and we're stuck with a lame-duck president who doesn't have the courage or—what's really a crime—even the ability to try to help.

What's Really Going On in Publishing

Everyone has an opinion as to what all the mayhem going on in publishing means; as humans, we are programmed to look for meaning in events. That is why I now bring you the opinion (reproduced here in full with permission) of a friend and colleague of mine, Dick Margulis, who has been in publishing even longer than I have:

Consider this a primer on The Way Business Works, so that you can sanity-check content that comes your way in the next months.

In broad outline, what has happened to the book publishing industry and the newspaper publishing industry (along with many other industries) over the last thirty years is that they have been financialized. Ugly word? Yeah. Ugly concept? Definitely. See this (better than what I'd have written).

This has led to the current state of affairs in which companies are run not by experts in the stuff the companies deal in every day (such as books consisting of words on paper) but by MBAs who are there to do the bidding of Wall Street speculators, experts in the other kind of books (numbers in spreadsheets). This is a huge cultural shift. We went from a market where people invested in companies based on fundamentals (long-term health of the company and industry) to a market dominated by people who traded stocks based on what used to be called the technical model—looking at the price of the stock from hour to hour rather than looking at what the company does in the world from year to year.

As a result, a half-percent drop in quarterly profits is sufficient justification for cutting head count. It gets the numbers back in line with the expectations of traders.

So that's where we are. Or rather that's where we were a couple of months ago.

Now, faced with the very real possibility of Great Depression II if they don't get smart, Wall Street types are starting to get religion about company fundamentals and to bemoan the depradations of the technical traders.

So stay tuned. You may see a big shift back to valuing companies based on product quality, customer service, and community support. It will take time, and I don't mean to suggest we're going to see a return to 1950s-style job security anytime soon, but if you're not in the habit of paying attention to business news, this might be a good time to start.

There are going to be a lot of books about navigating the new business environment, and to the extent you do nonfiction substantive editing, it's important to have your finger on the business pulse.

I like Dick's view very much; it reassures me. But to balance things out, here is a snippet of the view expressed by literary agent Lori Perkins on her blog Agent in the Middle:

We, as a country, are in a recession and publishing is no exception. I believe we, as an industry, have priced books out of the buyer's everyday market. A paperback should cost $5, a trade paperback $10 and a hardcover no more than $20. Only exceptional illustrated books should cost more than that, and I better get pop-ups and die cuts and music, if you want me to pay more than $25. When books cease to be an impulse/feel good purchase, and are something you have to calculate and budget (I'll get the new King this month, and then I'll get the Hamilton out of the library), something is wrong.

And the profit margins in publishing are way too tight. I still find it amazing that in today's publishing economics, the author and the publisher make less on a book than the bookstore and the distributor.

Publishing is in the same transition as the movie and music industries. The younger generation of movie watchers and music listeners have already grown used to getting their movies and music cheaper and faster with downloads. If books are to compete as a source of entertainment, they have to follow course.

Bookstores will have to change too—and they already are. Last week I was pontificating that bookstores of the future will actually be big electronic information stores. And then someone told me that Barnes & Noble owns GameStop. Today I just got a flyer informing me that Best Buy is now selling books. Soon, you will go to an electronics and information store, where you can buy almost anything you can't wear or eat. And that same "store" will have an online presence, where you can download almost anything they sell.

That's not to say that the book as we know it is dead, but it does mean that for books as entertainment, it's a brave new world. In Japan, half the books sold in the country are downloaded to phones. We can't be far behind.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Blood Keeps Spilling

The pain in the publishing industry continues:

I'm beginning to feel like Cassandra here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More Bloodletting in Publishing

This is all very frightening:

Some in the industry are callling today publishing's Black Friday, meaning not that things are happening to put the industry in the black but that members of the industry should be wearning black armbands in mourning.

But this mess has been caused by
  1. Publishing's failure to keep up with changing technology (e-readers, anyone?) and readership patterns

  2. Dumb joint practices with bookstores (e.g., returns) that the industry hasn't changed in years

  3. Giving outsize advances to a few superstars who tell every squalid thing in their ghost-written autobiographies or to authors of blockbusters, instead of giving more realistic advances all around

  4. The recession that the United States has been in for a year already, though Bush and big business alike have been in denial until now

Yeah, I'm ticked off—and scared for my friends who still are employed by publishers and worried about what this means for my editing business.

Missing My Honey

Missing my honeyJust the sound of Ed's voice, as he discusses chess strategy with our son Neil, fills my heart. He's off work today, so game time is possible.

I've been freelancing full time for nearly 14 years now, so I'm used to being at home all of the time. When Ed started his own cabinetmaking business just over a year ago, I was so pleased to have him around much more often than he used to be when he was someone else's employee. I reveled in being able to hear his voice in person, and not just over the phone, at any time of day or night. His dear, sweet smile still melts me after all these years. And I watched him supervise our sons' homework time (mostly for our second-grader, Jared) and his gentleness and patience with the boys comforts me. And I loved sitting at my computer and working while he took care of us all by making dinner.

But he's been working for the evil Walmart, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., for 3 weeks now because the recession has left him without clients for the time being, and I get all of those wonderful Eddish things only on Wednesdays and Sundays. I want my honey back at home. And he wants to be back here too.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Read Black Authors

Carleen Brice's Orange Mint and HoneyYou might have heard, through Facebook and through blogs, of the Buy a Book, Save the World campaign to increase book sales.

Author Carleen Brice has begun a different campaign: National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give It to Somebody Not Black Month. Its goal is to introduce white readers to the many great books that often end up hidden in the "black author" sections of bookstores. In this blog post, she provides 10 reasons for her campaign, including these:

  • You'll know what the cool kids are reading every month, not just February.

  • Seriously, haven't you read enough Philip Roth? Jewish guy obsessed with sex and death. Oy! Enough already.

  • You already like our music, dances, food, fashion and films.

  • Paraphrasing President-Elect Obama, we’re not black states of fiction and white states of fiction. We’re the United States of fiction.

  • We read your books.

  • Lots of [books by black authors] are really good.
Well, what are you waiting for? Go fall in love with an author—a black author—new to you!

Updated 7:34 p.m., 12/3/08: Here's a must-see video clip about this issue:

Stimulating Continuing Education for Copyeditors

Audio conferences and webinars for editorsI just got a brochure in the mail from Copyediting newsletter about its 2009 audio conference and webinar schedule. There will be 12 interesting topics, including this one:
Webinar, Streamline Your Editing with Word Macros, with Hilary Powers (author of Making Word Work for You: An Editor's Intro to the Tool of the Trade), scheduled for Thursday, April 16.

Other webinar/audio conference topics include

The whole list, with links to more info and registration, can be found here. There's plenty to learn or brush up on next year!

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