Thursday, September 30, 2010

Around the Word

Today the BloGG brings you hints and inspiration from two novelists, and goes gallivanting through the colorful history of acronyms:
  • Here's writerly wisdom for wordsmiths in all genres. Even if you haven't read Freedom, you've probably heard of its Pulitzer-winning, Oprah-sparring author Jonathan Franzen. Ragan's PR Junkie marvels at the Franzenfreude that has seized America, and looks at the Great American Novelist's bold tips for novelists who want to stand in his shoes—and for writers of any stripe who care for their craft.
1.  The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
2.  Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.
3.  Never use the word "then" as a ­conjunction—we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.
4.  Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.
5.  When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
6.  The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than "The Meta­morphosis."
7.  You see more sitting still than chasing after.
8.  It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
9.  Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
10.  You have to love before you can be relentless.
  • Many writers—columnists, scholars, closeted storytellers—dream of writing That Book or Their Novel. Alas, for most of us, the pressures and desires of ordinary existence interfere with this ambition. In an interview with the L.A. Times, novelist-and-working-mother Mary Gordon preaches discipline and passion as the pillars on which her after-hours authorhood rests. Check out her tough-love tips to parents whose unfinished masterpiece is the ball that keeps getting dropped. Writers, what are your suggestions for juggling so many projects?
  • OMG, IDK what any of these acronyms mean LOL. Acronyms swarm through our daily lives, often in such hordes that we cease to notice them. Where do they come from? Writing in More Intelligent Life, Economist correspondent Robert Lane Greene tracks the history of acronyms in technology, medicine, the military, the boardroom, government—down to our daily conversation. Acronyms can make powerful phrases banal or add a luster of legitimacy or sanitize medical diagnoses (often for the sake of marketing). At best, they fill a niche for which no synonym applies: a SNAFU (situation normal: all fucked up) is "a screw-up caused by some title-inflated CTO or SVP trying to impose TQM (total quality management)." Ultimately acronyms are tools, molded to the purposes and attitudes of their users. Where have you noticed acronyms cropping up recently? Do they delight or distress you?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ghost Guide: How to Price Your Editing Services

We asked, you answered. Last week, one of our ghostwriters wanted to know:
"What is an average fee that one of your writers would request to edit a full (80,000-90,000) manuscript?"
We turned his question—how much to charge for a book-editing project—over to our writer listserv, and from their collective wisdom we've compiled

What We Think About When We Think About Editing Fees 

The Job
Everyone who weighed in agreed: you and your client have got to settle on a shared set of realistic expectations. Are you line/copy editing a manuscript that's in pretty good shape, or are you tackling organization, focus, tone, and fact checking? If it's the latter, says Sheila Buff, a best-selling health writer, "that's something else entirely"—and you should up your rate accordingly.

The Project
To assess what needs to be done, accomplished writer and former editor Allen Mikaelian advises fellow editors to follow his lead in conducting a preliminary check-up. "I always get at least a sample of the manuscript first. Some 90,000 word manuscripts are easy, some take forever." David Lauterborn, who edited big-name travel guides before assuming his current post at Weider History Group, seconds the point, noting "heavy scientific or financial content can double the required hours." After you've seen a representative chapter, you'll be able to estimate the number of hours you'll spend editing, and you can calculate your fee based on your hourly rate (hours of work x dollars per hour = fee).

The Fee
The short version: pay rates vary. A lot.
It's up to you whether to bill hourly or charge a flat fee for the project, but even if you go with a fixed rate, you'll still need a rough idea of how many hours you'll spend on the manuscript—if anything, it's even more essential when you're charging a fixed price. Business author and ghostwriting guru Brian Solon warns, "if you quote a flat fee which is too low, and the editing process inevitably ends up taking way longer than expected, your effective hourly rate will plunge." He also recommends taking the author's personality into account. With a difficult writer, he says, "you could spend an entire day getting them to approve a handful of pages."
Solon talks us through his thinking: If you think you can edit 10,000 words per week, and you're taking on an 80,000 word manuscript, then that's eight weeks of work. "How much is eight weeks of your time worth?" he asks. In his example, a week's work is worth $2,000 ("if you are brilliant and the best at what you do," he qualifies), so $2,000 x 8 = $16,000. And that's your price.
Buff's numbers are decidedly more modest. According to her, the industry base rate starts at about $35/hour, increasing from there depending on your experience and your publishing record. She advises you assume five to ten pages an hour for a solid line-edit. If the manuscript has 250 words per page, and 80,000 words total, then you're looking at 320 pages of editing—or, using Buff's rubric, between 32 and 64 hours of work. Charging hourly, that's between $1,120 and $2,240 dollars.
Lauterborn comes in somewhere between the two. The average Lonely Planet-type manuscript "ran some 40,000 words, with a 6-week allowance for the project," he says. For an 80,000 or 90,000 word piece, then, "a good editor should request a three-month window of time and request a minimum of $10,000 for services rendered, more if the client has a solid publishing track record."

The Conclusion
Even if our math is a tad rusty, our skills are sharp enough to confidently note that there's a huge difference between $1,120 and $16,000. The "industry standard" isn't so standard after all, it turns out—hardly surprising, considering the case-by-case nature of the business. What IS standard, though, is the roster of things to consider:
  • What are the (shared) expectations between you and your client as to the scope and nature of your edits?
  • What is the time frame? Is this a drop-everything-and-stop-eating editing bonanza or a more leisurely gig?
  • How long will the project take you?
  • How much is an hour of your editing expertise worth (in dollars)? Where are you in your career?
From there, you've got to bite the bullet and quote a rate, but you can quote it with the confidence that you're within the realm of the reasonable.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Around the Word

The BloGG is serving up some tasty hors d'oeuvres today.  Check out the tantalizing "genius" grant, sample our public libraries, see how English digests abbreviations—and play edible Scrabble!
  • Here's a pick-me-up for freelance writers wrestling with awful day jobs.  Yesterday, novelist Yiyun Li—one of the New Yorker's "20 under 40," received a "genius" grant from the MacArthur Foundation, which recognized artists and scholars in fields from music to astrophysics.  For Li, interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, the money simply means more time to write.  Her latest collection of short stories, "Gold Boy, Emerald Girl" was released on September 14.  Check out the title story here.
  • Bookworms in America have burrowed into libraries since 1731, when we were still royal subjects.  At The Book Bench, Macy Halford looks at America's first subscription library, founded by Benjamin Franklin.  The history lesson was spurred by a recent New York Times story about public libraries that are privatizing to survive (and, perhaps, for less noble reasons as well).  Given the stiff fees I paid to access Berlin's Staatsbibliothek, I consider the U.S. library system a great boon—though admittedly I visit infrequently.  What purpose do you think public libraries serve these days?
  • For word sleuths, tech innovation has opened a brave new world.  "Check out this app!" would have been gibberish to many of us last year.  Slang keeps pace with the technology that inspires it—while standardization lags behind.  The Columbia Journalism Review follows the vicissitudes of abbreviations such as "mic" or "mike" for "microphone" and "in sync(h)" for "in synchronism."  Apart from a few sticklers, most authorities accept both variants.  "Mic" and "synch" derive from the radio era, but now that most people consume information in print (online), we wonder if spelling will standardize itself more readily.  We're curious to hear your thoughts on this phenomenon.  Why abbreve? 
  • And which of those abbreviations (above) will count in Scrabble?  You'd better check your dictionary, or we'll have you eating your words.  Literally.  Cheez-Its are now edible Scrabble tiles, each toothsome treat with a letter on it.  Wired offers clues on how to play the game, cheddar-style, since the crackers have no numbers and are not distributed according to official Scrabble rules.  A triple word score has never been so scrumptious!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Around the Word: The Age of Eloquence

Today we're hosting a field day for speechwriters, with words of wisdom from seasoned rhetoricians:
  • Public speaking—the world's "oldest art"—is alive and well today.  David Murray, editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, discusses the current state of speechmaking, arguing that public speeches remain an elegant and compelling form of mass communication.  Speeches may inspire or educate, and, most crucially, are part of "living history."  Murray's goal of keeping Vital Speeches current has led to some eyebrow-raising inclusions, such as Tiger Woods's public apology.  How would you define a "vital" speech? Have you heard any orations recently that seized your interest?
  • Speechwriting has deep roots.  Political speechwriter Dan Conley travels to ancient Greece to trace the philosophic foundations of speechmaking.  Both philosophy and speechwriting draw on the art of rhetoric and require the intellectual courage to synthesize information and draw persuasive conclusions.  Specialization has sundered the two disciplines, but Conley believes practitioners of both fields might learn something by taking a page from each other's books.
  • Freelancers thrive on independence, but what about the sweetness of a fruitful creative collaboration?  While composing a talk on cooperation and diversity, speechwriter Cynthia Starks found that multiple cooks can spice up the broth.  She worked closely with the client to generate and refine content, fielding suggestions from different departments in the firm and seeking advice from fellow speechwriters.  The result was a stronger speech tailored to the client's purposes.  We ask our freelancing friends: have you collaborated on a project recently?  When do outside voices help, and when would you prefer to go it alone?

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Passion for Punctuation

Bloggers and columnists are sounding off punctuation woes today in honor of National Punctuation Day.  The holiday was created seven years ago by former journalist Jeff Rubin to honor the lowly comma.  These days, writers seem most piqued by overtaxed exclamation points!!! and the misplaced "apostrophe-S" (the it's/its confusion, or "Chicken's for Sale").  Teachers complain that the slapdash orthography of text messages and emails has bled into students' writing, leading to egregious semantic sins like "IDK" for "I don't know" and :) emoticons appearing in school essays.

Whence all the anxiety?  Concerned citizens are declaring that English is dead.  They may be onto something.  When classical music retreated to the academies and was shored up by curmudgeonly composers poring over rediscovered Bach manuscripts, its knell began to toll.  Rising unease over punctuation and grammar misuse, evidence of which can be found here, there, and everywhere, would seem to indicate that we are fighting a similar (losing) battle against technology-memes that threaten our cherished cultural institutions.

But wait!  How do you explain the 800,000 members of the Facebook group "'Let's eat Grandma!' or, 'Let's eat, Grandma!' Punctuation saves lives"?  That's a relatively small slice of the Facebook population, but it reveals that even punctuation can be lovable—if you show people why they should care.

Grumpy grammarians might do well to ease off the battering ram and ask themselves, "So what?"  Why should proper usage matter?  We know it does—the miracle of human communication hangs by a very tenuous thread, and the right words in the right order keep it from snapping.  A misplaced comma can wreck the bridge you're building, as the title of Lynne Truss's popular Eats, Shoots and Leaves demonstrates.

The bigger issue is that "proper" grammar isn't necessary—or even proper—in most of today's communication channels.  An apostrophe takes up valuable space in a text message, so using one makes a statement.  Teens are sensitive to implied social signals.  When they text or tweet, they instinctively recognize and adjust to the requirements of form and audience.  Before students learn what's "right," they have to figure out for themselves what works.  Once they've established their own mode of communicating, the endless litany of rules and exceptions don't seem worth absorbing.

These students have intuited an important lesson: usage is a social construct.  Grammar has been fluid for most of human history: no one chastises Shakespeare for misspelling his name (Shaksper), and the word "grammar" itself is a distortion of the word "glamour."  These days, however, grammar has developed unavoidable (and often unconscious) social implications.  When Punctuation Day's founder Jeff Rubin corrects mispunctuated signs in restaurants, he says he judges the management's investment in their food and customers based on the care they take over their grammar.  The chef isn't using semicolons in his soup.  Nevertheless, we all make assumptions about social status, class, "in-group" identity, and even emotional engagement, based on grammar and usage.

We can't live outside of language.  We can harness it better, though, by listening to both the explicit and implicit stories it tells.  The BloGG wants to hear your take—what is the purpose of punctuation to you?

And we hope you enjoy National Punctuation Day with some comma-shaped cookies, a red sharpie, or by simply paying a little more attention to those unsung heroes of usage!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Around the Word: Great Debates

Today, we're refereeing three debates for language-lovers:
  • To eBook or not to eBook?  Words may look the same onscreen as on paper—but somehow they feel different.  The text's form—an eBook, a Word Doc, a notepad or thick novel—colors our approach to reading and writing.  In Wired, technology writer David Dobbs illuminates these internal shifts, examining the benefits and drawbacks of digital and paper-based media.  For instance, Dobbs sticks to the screen for fine-toothed line-edits, but for large-scale changes, he finds he is "more sensitive to proportion and rhythm and timbre" when marking up a printed page.  And, while praising the iPad's lightweight frame, he describes eBook reading as more "horizontal" and diffuse compared with the "vertical" intensity of a physical book.  Online, a reader is always conscious of potential links—you can toggle to a dictionary or Wikipedia to clarify a word or allusion, perhaps glance at your email on the way back.  This extra material tugs Dobbs away from the text, so that even serious reading feels "shallower."  We turn to you: have you experienced similar differences when you approach texts onscreen or on paper?  Which do you prefer?
    In the same vein, iPad-toting authors might enjoy Information Architects' latest app, "Writer."  "Writer" creates a writing and editing arena that clears out distractions and employs a typeface designed to promote slow, careful reading.  "Focus Mode" turns off auto-correct and spell-check prompts, and blurs out all text but the three lines you are working on.  It also features estimated reading-time for a block of text.  If you give this app a whirl, let us know how it works for you!
  • Fans of contemporary fiction may have noticed the brouhaha brewing over the Man Booker Prize finalists.  The New York Observer has the scoop: three of the six finalists wrote their novels in the present tense, a tactic that piques two famous British authors.  Philip Pullman, author of the popular His Dark Materials series, and Philip Hensher, former Booker Prize judge, deride the use of present tense as a trendy technique that creates a superficial sense of "daring" and "unreliable" narrative.  Book critic Laura Miller, writing for Salon, defends the three Booker hopefuls for plying what she believes is a well-justified and powerful technique given the specific character of the novels (one, for instance, is narrated by a five-year-old child).  Have you read any novels in the present tense recently?  What were your impressions?
  • Here's catnip for grammar sticklers who literally wince at the misuse of "literally."  The webcomic The Oatmeal warns you to choose your words carefully, because literally anything could happen.  And xkcd pokes nerdy fun at the literal/figurative mix-up.  So, what is the literal meaning of "literally"?  We dug up this Slate article by dictionary editor Jesse Sheidlower, who traces the irksome intensifier's transformation over centuries of use and abuse.

        Wednesday, September 22, 2010

        Orations, Etymologies and Unknown unknowns

        Heads up, speechwriters!  Today we're sharing some words of wisdom on finding your own public speaking voice.

        "It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know," said Thoreau.

        "Exactly," replies The Eloquent Woman, "so forget Thoreau."  Sure, Churchill, Einstein and Buddha might make stellar dinner companions, but do you want to invite them all onstage with you when you give a speech?  Audiences ride roughshod over quotes they already know—if you want listeners to follow your tracks carefully, stick to your own voice and find ways to surprise them.  When selecting quotations, look to less-famous lights who will offer the audience fresh insight.  Or put a new edge on an old saw by researching what was said directly after or before a famous utterance.  We may love Mark Twain's fillip, "I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did.  I said I didn't know"—but the steamboat pilot to whom Twain was apprenticed was less amused.  Putting an old chestnut back in context enlivens your speech and gives your audience something new to think about.  Finally, The Eloquent Woman counsels, don't be shy about using your own voice.  After all, audience has come to hear you.

        Speechwriter Cynthia Starks agrees, adding that presenting your real self is the best way to cure stage fright.  In her most recent blog post, Starks draws on wisdom from public speaking coach Saskia Shakin, who urges speakers to speak from the heart and tell stories that weave the facts into a larger, more meaningful pattern.  Stories give the audience something tangible to hang onto—and they help you remember why you're speaking in the first place.

        In the land of grammar, a different sort of bedbug is biting The Word columnist Jan Freeman.  This epidemic isn't for entomologists but etymologists.  Spiking bedbug populations have given new life to the phrase, "Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite"—but where does the expression come from?  It's a popular story that "sleep tight" refers to sleeping arrangements from early colonial times, when children slept in rope beds anchored beneath their parents' bed.  Freeman begs to differ, and cites evidence from the OED and other semantic sleuths who argue that the phrase derives from a Victorian bedtime rhyme, "Sleep tight, wake bright."  Bedbugs started appearing in the ditty during the late 1800s—and, unfortunately, have stuck around since.

        Another invasive species is blooming in the U.S.—the terminal "s."  Are we moving "towards" good English or "backwards" away from it?  Neither, as the Columbia Journalism Review kindly explains.  That pesky "s" is imported from Britain, where it's perfectly sound English.  And though the Grammar Guards of the New York Times and Chicago University don't approve, the "s" has more or less taken root in the States.  But take note!  This flexibility applies only to some directional words ("towards," "forwards"), while "beside" and "besides" remain two different words.  Confused yet?

        Finally, our politically-minded friends can add Donald Rumsfeld's memoir to their 2011 summer reading list.  The former Secretary of Defense has just announced the title of his memoir, Known and Unknown, taken from his widely debated quote about links between Saddam's regime and WMDs.  We know one thing: we're eager for those anecdotes about Elvis Presley.  How about you—are you interested in Rumsfeld's reminisces?  And, in a ghostwriterly twist on the old fantasy dinner party game, whose political memoirs would you be most excited to read?

        Tuesday, September 21, 2010

        You're Invited...

        Happy 40th birthday to the New York Times Op-Ed page!

        The first modern op-ed page was printed in 1921 in the New York World, formerly Joseph Pulitzer's paper.  The editor, Herbert Bayard Swope, cleared off the catchall page opposite the editorials to make way for opinion.  The World folded in 1931, and when the Times inaugurated op-eds in 1970, it was one of the first major papers to do so.  Within a year, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and L.A. Times followed suit.  The Times had come under fire for taking a liberal slant in the post-Vietnam years, and one editor in particular, Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger, Sr., urged the creation of a page for outside opinions to placate critics.

        Has the Times op-ed page lived up to its original ambition of showcasing an array of expert outside views?  News researcher Bill Lucey investigates the nature of the page that turns off the faucet of facts and steeps itself in the amusing and emotional waters of personal outlook.  We're curious to know your thoughts—why do you read op-eds?  Do they inform or irritate?

        And it wouldn't be a celebration without party favors:
        • Anyone who follows politics likes a good chortle at the expense of D.C. politicians—including D.C. politicians.  Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, dubbed the Secretary of Stand-up, keeps a quiver of D.C. zingers on hand whenever he delivers a speech beyond the Beltway.  His groaners are corny enough to make the press corps (and Gates's staffers) wince, but audiences outside the city of self-love have been lapping them up.  The jokes also illuminate the outlook of a man who has built a reputation as an aggressively independent administrator, despite being in many ways the ultimate Washington insider.  What do you think—do you smell hypocrisy or honesty from this maverick of mirth?
        • How's your collegespeak?  Have you recently gotten wasty faced at a party or been to splitsville—and called it that?  The New Yorker's Book Bench takes a cautious peek into the potpourri of portmanteaus that flourish in close collegiate quarters.  The inventiveness of college slang ranges from the rather elegant ("belligerent" for drunk) to the kooky (a "beeramid" is just what it sounds like) to the unabashedly crass (getting "trashed" will never go out of fashion).  Book Bench blogger Ian Crouch digs at the seedy underbelly of in-speak as well—the lurid creativity of slang is laced with implications of social status and clubby exclusivity.  At the risk of being an "askhole," the BloGG wants to know: what was your experience with slang or tech-talk in college and beyond?  Any juicy words you remember (or would like to forget)?

        Monday, September 20, 2010

        Welcome to BloGGAAARRRRR

        To honor yesterday's International Talk Like a Pirate Day, we're plunderin' the Queen's English!

        In the realm of vocabulary-building: lexicographer Erin McKean plunges into the kerfuffle over the Baltimore Sun's use of "limn" in a front-page headline earlier this month.  McKean notes that the word raised a few hackles because sporting a flashy vocabulary is often viewed as a form of social one-upmanship.  To follow the saga, check out an older column by the Sun's resident grammar guru John McIntyre gently chiding those who had their feathers ruffled to add a "limn" to their tree of knowledge.  McIntyre also responded to McKean's accusations of language-elitism.

        "Limn" has kicked up dust before.  We were reminded of a scuffle back in 2002, when New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani took flak for overusing the term.  Publisher and blogger Dennis Loy Johnson outlines the debate that drew in a number of contenders, and provoked heavy-hitting columnist William Safire to bat the term away as a "vogueword."  Judging from her latest review of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, Kakutani refuses to be bullied.  We'd love to hear your thoughts—should words like "limn" be considered valuable linguistic loot?  Should newspapers avoid such snooty words?  What stake do major media outlets, like newspapers, have in the national vocabulary anyhow?

        Plus, a few grammar goodies:
        • For you eagle-eyed editors who want turn a BP Spillcam on word-gaffes pouring into common parlance, Grammarphobia dives into the history of phrases like "you know" and "I mean"—I mean, can you really take the author of Northanger Abbey to task?  What’s the best way to avoid these pesky freeloaders?  Well, one of the BloGG's writers had a tough-love professor who interrupted students whenever they used such "crutch words" and basically, you know, we learned to monitor every sentence if we hoped to reach the end in one piece. 
        • Grammarians, hoist the red flag: the American Heritage Dictionary is giving the black spot to these most often mangled words.  The Dictionary admonishes you to cherish your cache of cachet and not to flounder about in the wordhoard or you may founder to the bottom—where only a stout-hearted editor can rescue you.
        • Monday bonus: some fun for language mavens languishing on the subway.  The Huffington Post has lassoed their favorite puzzle game iPhone apps for word-lovers.  Online Scrabble is a good fix for commuter malaise, and we're enchanted by a game called Bookworm, in which the player feeds a hungry, bow-tied bookworm by building words from lettered tiles—while preventing fiery letters from reaching the floor and engulfing the library in flames.

        Thursday, September 16, 2010

        Around the Word

        Today the BloGG is getting freaky and geeking out:
        • If you write freelance, you often tackle niche topics that the general public may find, well, boring.  Fuel from Copyblogger's freakonomics can turn a no-go into a showboat.  Embolden your titles, irrigate dry facts with storytelling and back up stories with hard numbers.  What are your techniques for letting your writerly light shine?
        • It's eight days away, but never too early to start celebrating National Punctuation Day.  Though the BloGG is resisting the temptation to sport comma-shaped sunglasses, we're geeking out a little, too.  The Word columnist Jan Freeman explores the grammatical jungle, keeping her binoculars trained on endangered comma uses.  She emerges with some refreshing advice: don't mind the signposts, some rules are there to be broken.
        • Twitter-sightings galore!  New Yorker writer Susan Orlean says her gradual climb into the Twittersphere has honed her editing and helped her keep in touch with her fans.  She uses the feed to help fans understand how her stories are built and reported.   Tweeters: as you enjoy Twitter's makeover and zazzy new logo, let us know your thoughts on Orlean's experiences.

        Wednesday, September 15, 2010

        Introducing PunditWire

        For all you political speechwriters who have had to suffer in silence through the years, take heart (and note).  Thanks to PunditWire, a new dedicated website for the Safire set, you now have a platform to publicly share your bon mots, bad reviews, and otherwise vent about the state of political discourse.

        PunditWire is the brainchild of two top political prose pros, Bob Lehrman and Leonard Steinhorn, who are both now teaching at American University (the site's sponsor) in Washington.  They have recruited a few other seasoned speechwriters to join them as regular contributors.  Here in their own words (only fitting for a bunch of writers) is how they describe themselves, their purpose, and their perspective:
          We've worked on campaigns, Capitol Hill, and in the White House. We've been at every level of politics writing for politicians of every stripe. We're usually behind-the-scenes, accustomed to seeing our words and thoughts associated with others, not ourselves. 
          Now, with PunditWire, we have a home for our own commentary. Now you can read what we, personally, have to say. The wordsmiths now have a place for their own words. 
          As speechwriters, we offer you a double perspective: we're insiders and observers at the same time, political participants in the arena and spectators with special insight into the language of politics. Our goal is to write columns that inform and illuminate. 
          We welcome all former speechwriters to contribute, to add their voice, to make a difference in our national dialog and debate. We say this is a site for speechwriters. But in truth it's for our readers. Communicating to others is what got us into this business. It's what keeps us going. Please let us know what you think.
        It's a great idea and long overdue.  We encourage you to add it to your daily must-reads.  For more information about how to become a contributor, click here.

        Tuesday, September 14, 2010

        Around the Word

        Today's tour of the web takes us from red pens to the White House and beyond...
        • As writers, we've all heard (maybe even starred in) proofreading horror stories. How do you gear up the magnifying glass to spot those slightly misshapen words? Here's help! If you can't hire a professional proofreader, follow journalist Daphne Gray-Grant's ten tips on creating pristine copy. Among other hints, Gray-Grant advises that you print your piece out (or change to a large, whimsical font) and read it backwards. What other proofing pointers do you have from your own experience?  
        • For you news-readers hungry for something to hold onto, here's food for thought. While on her honeymoon, writer and professor Kara Miller found herself holding print newspapers for the first time in a long time. As she leafed through, her eye lingered over unexpected stories and explored untrodden sections. Reading online is cheaper and eco-friendly, but hyperlinks and personalized homepages send us barreling directly to our preferred sections and tend to polarize our opinions. We're curious to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons of online news. How do you avoid over-specialization?
        • Bibliophiles, rejoice! The Wall Street Journal heralds the birth of a dedicated book review in its offshoot The Weekend Journal, to be launched this month. Book reviews are folding around the country, notes The Observer, with The New York Book Review now standing almost alone in the field.
        •  Barack Obama, 44th President, Commander in Chief and...celebrated children's book author? In Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, to be released next month, President Obama celebrates the lives of thirteen inspiring Americans. Drawings by Loren Long, who gave us the lovable blue Little Engine That Could, will harmonize with the President's song. This and The Audacity of Hope comprise two of the three books required by Obama's 2004 contract with Knopf—what do you think his third book will be?

        Monday, September 13, 2010

        Around the Word

        We're suiting up for Monday with some wise words for our friends on the corporate side:
        • Marketing content may not grow on trees.  But it does often sprout in oft-ignored alcoves of the company, advises marketing director Jennifer Watson.  What rich soil have you overlooked?  Revisit your firm's Proposal Department, check in on the Call Center, and take a trip to the Operations Department.  Social media savvy, according to Watson, also builds relationships: brand ambassadors should mold their sales message into presentations, white papers, webcasts, corporate blogs and Twitter feeds.
        • For those of you having trouble readjusting to the daily dose of information overload after the summer slowdown, The Positivity Blog has a few helpful tips to lift your spirits—and cut down on excess information that drags you into the web of alarmist opinions and bickering threads online. Author Henrik Edberg encourages you to take a closer look at your information diet and consider how it affects your thought patterns. We're curious to hear your take: is mindful consumption difficult these days? What are your methods for vetting information?

        Friday, September 10, 2010

        Around the Word

        Happy Friday and a happy new year to our Jewish friends.  We're closing out the short week with a few short words of wisdom we have picked up over the last few days.
        • For you grammar buffs battling in the Usage Wars, meet a new ally: the 16th Edition of the Chicago Manual of Style was released last week, catching up on the last seven years of internet culture in one bound.  Read a review in Paper Cuts and see what's new, from an expanded section on "bias-free language" to an "electronic-editing checklist."  But don't think they've gone soft: this edition promises "firmer rules and clearer recommendations."  Has anyone cracked open the Manual yet?  What do you think of the changes?
        • The Anti-Twitter League has launched another argument against the claim that Twitter improves editing.  Communications consultant Michael Burton takes a romp through the indiscretions of Tweet-speak and explores recent literature, including Nicholas Carr's wave-making book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  The BloGG hasn't gotten into any "twisticuffs" lately, but we wonder how you would handle a "Tweetsult"—and what you think about the fate of Webglish.
        • Our speechwriting friends can peer into Obama's recent Oval Office Address using X-ray goggles provided by the Global Language Monitor.  Their rhetorical analysis, released this week, reveals that his sentences were 5% shorter than in previous speeches, but his paragraphs considerably longer, creating a workmanlike, digestible speech.  The GLM compares the address to Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech in terms of "hearability."
        And our favorite:
        • From the classic 1965 guide The Careful Writer to Robert McKee's canonical screenwriting book Story, here's fuel for writers revving up after summer.  Author Jon Winokur takes a spin through the best books to punch up your prose, including one intriguing black sheep: Metaphors We Live By, co-written by a linguistics and a philosophy professor, about why we think in metaphor.  We're curious to hear of any titles you think should've made the list.

        Tuesday, September 7, 2010

        Stiffed Competition for Freelancers

        In the misery has company department: Rutgers University released a study last week showing that freelancers in New York City are getting stiffed on fees even more than usual during the Great Recession.  According to the Rutgers survey, tardy or truant employers owed New York freelancers an average of $12,000 last year.  Out of 900,000 independent workers, more than 35% had to wait on late payments and 14% didn't see a penny of fees they were owed.  And, not surprisingly in this challenging economy, many freelancers feel hobbled by the threat of being branded as "hard to handle" or demanding.

        There is a sliver of good news here, though.  Crain's New York Business reports that our friends at the Freelancers Union, which has been gathering substantial political clout, are on the warpath against this upturn in lowdown behavior, setting up websites to "out" non-payers, postering subway cars and lobbying for bills in the New York state legislature that would compel contractors to pony up on time or face stiff fines.

        We're curious to hear from our freelancing writing friends about this trend.  Have you encountered more deadbeats in this dead economy?  Care to share any effective tricks you've used to get the shirkers to settle up?

        Wednesday, September 1, 2010

        Around the Word

        Catching up on summer web surfing, we found some sound advice for buffing up nonprofit and corporate marketing pitches, which we thought worth sharing:
        • Writing in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, community developer Elizabeth Ortiz cries revolution against "tyrannical" feel-good jargon that undermines good intentions and effective advocacy in nonprofit work.  Three despots to overthrow?  "Impactful," "transformative" and "innovative."  (Hat tip to Gotham friend Shaina Gopen for passing this on).
        • On the corporate side, DH Communications President Dianna Huff shares experience-based tips on how to get the most bang for your marketing content buck.  For those on a trim budget, Huff advises streamlining mailings and white papers, plus savvy ways to direct website traffic and customize brochures using Print-On-Demand.  Have any of these methods worked for you?