Monday, December 21, 2015

Dear Authors, I'm Sorry: Confessions of an Editor-Turned-Writer

By Sarah Knight

During my fifteen years as a book editor for major publishing houses, I made a number of observations about the behavioral patterns of authors. These observations led me to conclude that most of those authors were special little snowflakes at risk of melting if I so much as looked at them funnylet alone failed to include at least three paragraphs of glowing praise in my editorial letter before launching into the actual, you know, edits.
I have seen the error of my ways.
This summer, I wrote my book proposal for The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck. I received a round of comments from my agent and sent the revision back to her in twenty-four hours. I vividly remember the appraising look she gave me from across her glossy 5th Avenue desk and her comment: “God, I love working with professionals.”
That was the first and last time that I felt snugand smugin the knowledge that I, a professional book editor, was totally going to kill it as an author.
Not only was I going to write a hysterically funny, brilliant parody of a bestselling Japanese tidying guide, I was going to sail through the publication process without any of the anxieties, insecurities, last-minute changes, cover art hemming/hawing, or obsessive Amazon-rank-refreshing exhibited by my authors over the years.
Instead, I wrote a hysterically funny, brilliant parody of a bestselling Japanese tidying guide and fell victim to all of the above, and then some. But hey, I’m a grown-ass adult, and I know when to say I’m sorry.
Here goes…
Dear Authors,
I’M SORRY for suspecting some of you of leaving little typos on random manuscript pages just to see if I was paying attention. I used to think it was impossible to make so many typos in a 300-page document, so you must have been fucking with mebut now I realize you were so gacked out on caffeine and sleep-deprivation by the time you handed it in, that you probably really thought “different” was spelled “fidderent.”
I’M SORRY for being annoyed when you “checked in” just to make sure I “got the file” less than forty-eight hours after you sent it, when twenty-four of those hours comprised “Sunday” and another eight, “sleeping.” If, like me, you told your editor (who would also be me, in this scenario) that you “weren’t too eager for feedback yet” or to “take as long as you needI just want it off my desk!” what you really meant was “Every minute that passes that I don’t hear a kind word from you, I will assume that you and my agent are on a call deciding who will be the one to break it to me that everything is shit.”
I’M SORRY for wanting to reach through the phone and bonk you on the nose like one might a recalcitrant cat when you kept asking me how many more daysnay, hours (oh let’s be honest, minutes)you’d still have to make final changes before the book went to print. Don’t you want to be done with this thing??? I would fume incredulously, predicting [correctly] that you’d ask for more time no matter what my answer. Only now do I know that peculiar fear of waking up from a day-after-deadline fever dream with the PERFECT addition to the end of chapter four (or in my case, an improvement to a Nick Nolte joke), and not being able to make it.
I’M SORRY that I ever expected you to be able to approve your cover art and then not second guess yourselfand the motivations of your editor, publisher, and art director in “pushing” this design on youand then email hours later to rescind said approval and ask for more changes. (I may or may not have submitted an innocent query to my editor about “bumping up” the shade of red in my title font the day after I approved the art.)
I’M SORRY for rolling my eyes every time you emailed me excitedly about your Amazon ranking having gone from 655,782 to 655,001 and also asking me if I knew why it had done so. Here is the actual text of an email I sent to my editor and agent several weeks ago:
Date: October 15, 2015 
Subject: It has begun
Last night I looked at my Amazon page to post something funny about my ranking (182 in Humor/Self-Help & Psychology). Then this morning I checked again and it was up to 54. I now see how this can be addictive.

I’M SORRY that I told you to feel free to stet as many of the copyeditor’s comments as you wanted, without also warning you that going through your copyedited manuscript would feel not unlike being slowly debrided of burn wounds over 80% of your body by a spastic toddler wielding an old toothbrush.
Without anesthesia.
AND I’M SORRY that when you emailed me in a panic about missing a deadline because your computer died or your postman dropped the first pass pages in a puddle or your daughter had to go to the E.R. or your house was hit by a tornado, I didn’t believe you for one goddamn second. I am sorry about this because, on the eve of the deadline for turning in my final corrections, my printer literally ate my manuscript. Half the words were missing from the pages; the other half were mysteriously bolded.
Knowing as I do the standard reaction of an editor to this sort of late-game tomfoolery, I actually sent mine a photograph of one of the affected pages, along with a request for a new set printed at Little, Brown and Company and messengered to my apartment the next day. Then I thought about how, if one of my authors had sent me a photo of her house destroyed by a tornado and asked for an extra day with the manuscript, I would have assumed she’d spent three hours learning the ins and outs of Photoshop just to score a reprieve on her due date.
(I would therefore also forgive my editor for assuming that this entire essay was concocted to give further credence to the above scenario.)
Love, Sarah

Sarah Knight is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck (Little, Brown /Dec ‘15), a freelance editor, and writer at

This article was original posted on Medium.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Guest Post: Authentically Simple-Minded

Reuters/Alex Domanski
By David Murray
And here comes a prominent business professor who actually thinks authenticity is bullshit.
"Leaders don’t need to be true to themselves; in fact, being authentic is the opposite of what they should do," writes Stanford's Jeffrey Pfeffer in a currently popular book called Leadership BS. "Each of us plays a number of different roles in our lives, and people behave and think differently in each of those roles, so demanding authenticity doesn’t make sense."
All of our namby-pamby talk about how leaders are most convincing when they're speaking from the heart? Which heart? Pfeffer asks.
"One of the most important leadership skills is the ability to put on a show ... to act like a leader, to act in a way that inspires confidence and garners support—even if the person doing the performance does not actually feel confident or powerful."
To me, Pfeffer sounds like he's being purposely disingenuous. I'd love to ask him if he thinks the "role" he plays as a husband or a father isn't any kind of true self—or at least a truer self than the "role" he plays with his students or his colleagues or his administrative assistant. Are they utterly separate roles or just different sides of one soul? Surely he doesn't boil down all of his life's behavior as merely pragmatic reactions to the drama at hand? I'm pretty sure a person who felt that way would not write books.
Pfeffer's idea isn't merely simplistic, it also old—too old to be called provocative by anyone who has read Shakespeare: "all the world's a stage, and all men and women merely players."
But the endurance of this amoral vision forces us to acknowledge it. It forces us to question, as Pfeffer does, the authenticity notion that the leadership industry (and also the leadership communication industry, of which I must consider myself a part)—has been making too simple-mindedly.
"The leadership industry is so obsessively focused on ... what should leaders do and how things ought to be," Pfeffer writes, "that it has largely ignored asking the fundamental question of what actually is true and why."
And this, my friends in and around the leadership communication industry, is where and why we must be careful. Because we want leadership to be closely tied to authenticity. We want it because authenticity is good and we want to be good. We want to be involved in a noble social enterprise, not a mercenary racket.
But if we believe all the time what we want to believe, our counsel will be appropriate to the clients we wish we had rather than the ones we have. And those clients will notice. (And maybe they've noticed already.)
To be effective and moral actors, we must do four things simultaneously:
• Believe in a kind of authenticity as a leadership ideal.
• Acknowledge the more complicated way many leaders actually behave.
• Bring ourselves to acknowledge that some of those leaders actually know what they're doing.
• And nevertheless seek other leaders—leaders whose version of authenticity give us the chance to do our best work—to serve.
David Murray is executive director of the Professional Speechwriters Association. He's also editor of Vital Speeches of the Day magazine.

This piece was originally posted on Vital Speeches of the Day.