Snowflakes in France

Reflections of a 20-something woman in publishing

Category: career

Teaching the Intern

I decided to take the intern out for lunch. We walked slowly between antique brownstones that spoke of comfort and stability without a thought of money. They, as we, welcomed the leaves of fall, which brought out the variations of brown in their steady walls and their hovering gargoyles.

I took us to a sushi house a couple blocks away, where the 2 roll special could get us a plate full of at least 16 pieces of sushi, a salad and soup. I added an order of edamame, ostensibly because 22-year old guys eat A LOT of food. Especially the skinny ones. But I also happen to love edamame.

He asked me questions about some of the contracts he had seen while filing them away in various cabinets, and I did my best to encourage his interests while trying to sound informed enough that he would believe my answers. I have worked in the business for three years, which isn’t quite enough to answer some questions, though I like to think that he was envious of my knowledge.  I spoke of my early years in New York as if they were a decade past and encouraged him to check out this weekend’s festivals and grab a copy of Time Out NY to take his girlfriend on a tour when she came to visit.

When the bill came, I casually took it from him. The lunch was on me. It’s not like he was getting paid for his internship; it’s the least I could do. He protested gracefully, but also with a hint of anxiety, adding, “I really feel uncomfortable with you paying.” But I insisted, mentioning how the boss had bought my lunch earlier in the week, and so I was simply passing down his generosity.

As we finished off the last pieces of edamame, he looked thoughtful, and then said, “You know it’s funny, waiters, they always bring the check to the guy at the table. And here you just paid even though you’re the woman.”

Before I thought he just wanted to support himself, to pay his half. I had done the same thing in my years as an assistant. But perhaps he actually wanted to pick up the entire tab simply because I was a woman and he was a man, determined to abide by the standards of society. This, I decided, was incredibly naive.

“Well,” I said, “The waiter didn’t really seem to mind so I guess it’s OK.”

An Editorial Ass

I’m looking for a book about an up-and-coming health trend. It must have a strong enough hook to be on the Today Show a few weeks in a row. The author must be famous, recognized by a swarm of health nuts in his or her diet or disease community. As I said, it must be trendy, but it must not be overdone and worn out. I need a spin on something that’s in. Oh, and it cannot have been published yet.

This is my job. Sounds exciting right? Except for that little detail of me having no clue how to find these books. Every time I find a brilliant new health idea, I can’t find an author. Or I find an awesome author with an awesome idea, and I can’t manage to get my marketers to agree that people will buy it. (Add to that my normal duties of essentially managing the daily affairs of a publisher and 5 editors — the boring stuff that they don’t have time to do — and you have a real image of my job.)

They say getting a book published is hard and that’s why people are self-publishing. Let me tell you, becoming an editor has to be harder. I remember when I started in publishing and I came across Editorial Ass, I decided that I was too good to end up like that, I was too smart, too dedicated, too likable. I would get promoted because I always have.

Two and a half years later, I’ve taken a different tone. I am still smart, dedicated and friendly. When it comes to actually editing, I know what I’m doing. I know when I find the right author, the right topic… it just happens so infrequently. And I can’t help but feel that it’s my fault. If I knew the subject area a bit better, or if I read the right magazines, went to the right nutrition health stores. In short, I’m not sure I can make it in this highly competitive, New York centric business. Despite the fact that I understand balance statements, budgeting, contracts, and (gasp) I can edit.

So you out there with the brilliant health manuscript, you the person who’s always quoted in USA Today about your subject area, tell me how I can find you. Because in the meantime, Editorial Ass has been promoted. And I’m still an editorial assistant trying to prove myself as an editor.

An itch for a dream

I have an itch. For days I haven’t been able to find it. To cope, I’ve been short with people around me, jittery at my desk. Frowning more than smiling, and spending way to much time and money on online designer discount shopping sites.

And then this morning I read an APW post on dreaming bigger:

I’d forgotten what it was like to knock on door after door after door, and get told no, over and over again. I’d forgotten how depressing it was. I’d forgotten how determined it can make you. I’d forgotten that confusing, partially excited, mostly terrified feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach when someone finally says yes. I’d almost forgotten that art is my hustle.

As for me, I had also forgotten, and it made me lazy. During the day, I add 20 pages of footnotes to a manuscript because the author didn’t know how, and then I listen to Lily Allen radio, read BUST magazine, plan my wedding with an open, practical mind, and expect that to be enough. As if surrounding myself with smart, ambitious, daring women would naturally lead to the success of my own big dreams. Despite my comfortable existence as an editorial assistant.

But now it’s my turn to knock on doors. To be rejected so that I can move on from my safe little cocoon of entry-level work that I’ve perfected over the last two years.

And the itch? It’s the pit in my stomach. Because I know that a door is about to open. Now I have to walk into it. And it’s terrifying. Without really knowing what I’m doing, I have to work with authors who don’t know what they’re doing. See if the executive editor likes my work, and if he doesn’t move on. Because I’ve learned all I can in this position.

I need to blog more, find an interesting job, and build on the community of women that has been supporting me.

Or maybe I’ll go to law school. Who knows.

Exciting But Risky

When was the last time you picked up a dictionary and looked up a word?

Actually, I  did this yesterday, but that’s because I have about 70 of them on the shelves of my desk.

I’ve always loved dictionaries. They hold a list of the little pieces that we use to create stories, draft contracts, post LOST DOG signs, talk on the phone.

In the age of Google, dictionaries are a bit constrained.  While language naturally evolves and expands, dictionaries are bound to a certain number of words, of pages.

But I still like dictionaries. And I think I want to help them keep up with language and technology.

Wordnik , among other similar sites, is doing this pretty well, but with a few key problems:

  • Misspelled words
  • Foreign words, which have no definition listed because the site’s definitions are based on English dictionaries
  • Not enough time/staff to keep up with the words

And perhaps the biggest problem with sites like this:

  • No profit

How to make a profit on words in a digital world without overwhelming viewers with advertising? As my boss says, it’s an interesting business problem. Exciting but risky.

I see memoirs, self-help books, philosophy essays on TV shows, and other “infotainment” literature fly through the files on my computer on a regular basis, but the dictionary stuff makes me think the most. Maybe I can save them…

Getting Beyond the Bottom Line

I was a straight-A student, an overachiever. Graduating from college and getting an entry-level administrative position was like signing up for a year of vacation. And now I’m bored.

What does society expect to do with men and women who used to be honor students, who stayed up until 2 am every night just to finish that book and write that 5-page paper that they didn’t have time to do amidst running a desk at the daily newspaper, working at the local lawfirm or planning a community charity event for their sorority? 

I’ve been here a year. I like my company, I admire my managers, and I want to make decisions beyond what time to schedule the next meeting. But how can we all expect to be promoted after a year?

Of course, I’m somewhat hesitant to jump back into my old overachieving, slightly workaholic mindset. I’ve finally started to watch TV, catch up on movies, and read books that have been on my list for quite a while. And I have fears. Can I really make it in a NYC business where I could potentially make decisions worth $1 billion in revenue? Am I ready for the risks? Do I have enough smarts and imagination to come up with the ideas before the other people around me? Because I sure don’t have the experience. 

But I’m not sure I have a choice. This is the way society bred me. I’m hoping that it’s also the reason I was hired.