Tag Archives: iPhone

Questions about copyediting

Maggie Pingolt, a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communications, called our office to ask if she could interview one of our copyeditors. Ours work on contract, so they aren’t typically in the office.

“I supervise the copyeditors,” I said. “Do you want to talk to me?” I was on my way out the door but we agreed to a time later that day to talk on the phone.

Being interviewed by someone isn’t a routine event for me. I’m used to being on the “asking questions” side of interviews and I was surprised to realize how hard it is to talk about the things you do and think about every day.

Maggie: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Me: Okay, this is kind of a joke, but not really. Keeping up with my email! I get so many hundreds of emails each day it’s beyond manageable. The rest of my job as editor is joyful. I like what I do. But the effort to keep up with my email is a constant source of stress and really eats up my time.

Maggie: Describe your office environment in one word.

Me: The first word that comes to mind is “crazy.” We always have a lot going on at once because we’re a really small staff trying to do the work of a bigger magazine. Call it “crazy,” “chaotic”…any way you can think of to say it that doesn’t make me sound like a lunatic. By the way, this isn’t going to published anywhere, is it?

Just then, our staff writer/photographer, Daniel Friedman, walked by my office door and I heard Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist call out, “Hi, fried man!”

Maggie: If you could change one aspect of copyediting, what would it be?

Me: These are hard questions! I guess the only thing I really wish I could change is that I wouldn’t miss things. We have several layers of copyeditors who read the magazine before it goes to press and yet there is no way to ever get it perfect. You’re never going to be able to change one thing that solves all the problems. You’re dealing with human beings and a complex language with all sorts of exceptions to rules. I like rules, stylebooks…they give me a sense of certainty as opposed to having to make judgment calls.

I wish copyediting didn’t take so long, but it does — to get it right. I wish it weren’t so important but it is. In this day and age, where everyone is throwing stuff up on the web without a second thought, I worry that the value of copyediting, and factchecking in particular, has been lost.

Maggie: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to go into the field of copyediting?

Me: Really know the basics — grammar, spelling…and understand how important factchecking is. Study the AP Stylebook, get the app on your iPhone and use it…basics! I can’t tell you how many freelance submissions I get on a daily basis with typos, grammatical errors, informal language…it’s disrespectful to an editor to be so sloppy. People don’t take the time they should. All writers should think of themselves as students who are trying to impress the teacher.

Maggie: What’s your biggest pet peeve as an editor?

Me: That’s an easy one: People who are sloppy. Sloppiness indicates disrespect…they couldn’t take the time. I’m a firm believer that you do something until it’s as good as it can be, and only then do you let it go.

Maggie: Are there specific examples of grammar or word-use errors that bother you?

Me: Things that bother me? “It’s” and “its”…a lot of people don’t get that you only use “it’s” when you mean “it is.” Not the possessive.

I cringe when I see “all right” spelled as one word: “alright.” And then “there,” “their,” “they’re”…people misuse those all the time.  I can’t stand run-on sentences…all of that drives me crazy.

We all make mistakes; don’t get me wrong. But when I see a freelance submission that has more than one or two it makes me want to claw my eyes out.

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A comedy of errors that didn’t go wrong

I was running late for a lunch, so I called my friend and left a message on her voicemail to let her know I was on my way. When I arrived at the restaurant, already five minutes late, I couldn’t find a parking place. By the time  I finally discovered the underground parking garage two blocks away, parked my car and walked to the restaurant, I was 10 minutes late.

Whew. Sure glad I called to let her know, I thought.

I ran up the stairs and told the hostess that I was there to meet a friend. “We don’t have anyone waiting,” she said, then offered to seat me.

I was surprised to learn that I was there first, but followed the hostess to a table and ordered an iced tea. While I waited, I checked my email and texted my cousin’s daughter, a student at ASU. By 12:15 I was starting to get worried. So I also texted my friend: “Fearing I got my signals crossed. We still on for today?”

No response.

At 12:30 a very patient waiter came to ask me if I was “still okay.” At that point, I figured I was on my own for lunch. So I ordered a wrap to go, tipped him heavily and headed back to the office.

Just as I was about to pull into our parking garage, I received a call from my friend. “Hey, what happened?” she asked.

“Um…I’m not sure,” I said. “Did I get the time wrong? I was there for 45 minutes and then figured I must have messed up so I’m headed back to work.”

“You were there?” she said. “So was I! Where were you?”

Turns out I was sitting indoors and she was sitting outdoors on the patio. Both of us had told the hostess we were waiting for someone and neither of us was told that someone was waiting for us.

“I tried to reach you on your cell phone,” I said. “Did you get my message?

She’d left her office without her cell phone.

When we figured out what happened, my friend laughed. “Guess it wasn’t meant to be,” she said. “I had a lovely lunch by myself and actually got a lot of things done. So I guess I should thank you!”

We’re going to try again next week. Same time, same place. With cell phones.

Want to impress an editor? What NOT do to…

After nearly 30 years of work in the publishing field, I’ve decided it’s time to polish my own writing skills. So I’ve been buying books about writing, signing up for webinars and taking some classes through the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

I entered this process as a wide-eyed student, eager to learn from others and apply their insights to my own work. Sometimes I forget how much I already know.

In November, I took a Piper Center class taught by Jana Bommersbach, one of Arizona’s most acclaimed journalists and authors.  The class was called “Making Your Story Sing: How to Write a Great Magazine Piece.” When I introduced myself to the small group gathered in a cozy front room of the historic Piper Writers House on the Arizona State University main campus, I expected — and saw — a few raised eyebrows. I could almost hear the thoughts: What is a magazine editor, someone who buys magazine articles, doing here?

So I explained. I told the group that after 21 years of publishing Raising Arizona Kids, of telling other writers how to improve their writing, I needed some juice. I wanted ideas to help me critique and coach other writers. And I craved inspiration for my own writing projects, including a book I am working on about my experience with a Paradise Valley couple who adopted four children from Ethiopia.

Jana is a gifted writer; she’s also a natural and effective teacher. I found myself hanging on her every word, scribbling notes to help me remember her very practical tips of the trade. Toward the end of the class, as we were about to run out of time, someone asked her to speak about the toughest part of writing: selling your work.

And I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I found myself jumping in, adding examples of what not to do when sending a query to an editor. I don’t think I realized, until I got started, just how passionately I feel about this topic. I got so involved “contributing” my perspective that I stopped taking notes. So I can’t really remember which of the following suggestions were mine and which were Jana’s.

Top 10 Terrible Ways to Pitch a Story

1.) Tell me why I should publish your article. Any variation on the theme of “you should” is a turn-off. You don’t get to tell me what to do. Your job is to grab my attention and curiosity — quickly — by sharing something fascinating about your story idea in the very first paragraph.

2.) Write to impress. I don’t care how big your words are or how proficient you’ve become with the thesaurus app on your iPhone. Do you have an interesting topic or a compelling human-interest angle? That’s all I care about.

3.) Make a pitch that’s blatantly self-promotional. Don’t offer to write a story about your own business/product/self-published book.

4.) Include a five-page resume. I’m not going to read it and I don’t care. If you can’t tell me who you are and why you’re qualified to write this story in a sentence or two, then you probably aren’t even sure yourself.

5.)  Send an email query with all the forethought you would put into texting your spouse about whose turn it is to pick up dinner. While email is many editors’ preferred method of contact, it is disheartening for us to see anything less than a well-thought-out, professionally crafted and somewhat formal message. Don’t use abbreviations, don’t try to sound like my best friend and please don’t let me see emoticons or “LOL” in your query.

6.) Hit “send” before you self-edit. Please don’t risk my snap judgment that you are sloppy, lazy or uneducated. Make sure your spelling, grammar and punctuation are correct. Make sure you’re using the right words. One writer wanted me to publish her story of someone who’d gotten ” a bad wrap.” Rough day at the gift-wrapping counter? When you’re trying to impress someone with your writing ability, this kind of sloppiness is a big no-no.

7.) Call to check on the status of your query. No one likes being put on the spot — especially editors, who base much of their decision-making on experience and instinct and can’t always quickly summon the words to communicate reasons why an article doesn’t appeal. If I inadvertantly answer the phone at work and realize it’s a writer, my back goes up immediately. Always respect the editor’s stated preference for communication. I don’t know any editor who encourages phone conversations — except with established contributors.

8.) Don’t read my published guidelines for writers. Do I really need to explain this one?

9.) Pitch a story idea for a topic we have covered in the last year. The beauty of online archiving is that a quick keyword search will show you if your topic already has been covered. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that tool?

10.) Make it painfully clear that you don’t really “get” my magazine. I can’t tell you the number of article queries I’ve gotten that have absolutely no relevance to my publication’s target audience. We are not a magazine for children. And we don’t publish fiction, poetry or crossword puzzles. The absolute worst thing a writer can do is try to market a story idea to a magazine he/she has never seen or read.

Time for climbing trees

This morning, after I checked my email, looked at my personal Facebook page, looked at the Raising Arizona Kids Magazine Facebook page, perused the latest postings on the RAKmagazine Twitter account and logged some tweets in my personal Twitter account, I sat down on the couch to read the morning papers. My husband and I get both the Arizona Republic and the New York Times. (We used to get the East Valley Tribune before they stopped delivering to our area. Now, sadly, they’re not publishing at all.)

I don’t always make it through both papers but I try to at least scan the headlines. Today I was struck by the irony on the two front pages.

If your kids are awake, they’re probably online, warned a headline in the center of the Times. Thanks to remarkable multitasking abilities, children ages 8 to 18 are packing up to 11 hours a day of media activity into their daily routines, according to the story. “The average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.”

Then I turned to the Republic, where I saw that More K-12 classes [have been] approved for online instruction. So now, in addition to “every waking minute” outside of school, children can spend even more of their day staring at a screen?

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I love the efficiencies of today’s electronic devices. I can get a lot more done in the same eight-hour work day than I used to be able to do. But every time I’ve upgraded my personal technology arsenal — from pager to cell phone, from cell phone to iPhone, from one email account to several, from no social media to Twitter and Facebook — I pay a price. These tools allow me to do more in a day, so I feel compelled to do more. And my internal expectations, instead of shrinking, are growing exponentially.

Online learning serves a great need in today’s society and Arizona has many fine schools that specialize in it. Many of these “virtual” schools (which we list in our 2010 Schools, etc. guide to education) are already free, public charter schools.

Increasing access to online learning within our regular public school districts has me feeling a bit uncomfortable. What is the effect to a child’s imagination and inherent need for contact with the natural world when even school time is spent online?

I am reminded of a recent conversation with a career educator. Piya Jacob is the founder and director of Desert View Learning Center in Paradise Valley, a small private school my own two sons attended during grades K-3.

Piya described a conversation she’d had with two parents who were debating whether they should enroll their child as a kindergarten or first-grade student. The mom was leaning toward a kindergarten start; the dad insisted the child was academically ready for first grade.

“What is the goal?” Piya gently prodded. “Is the goal to get this child to into the work world that much more quickly? Because we all have plenty of time to work. We have such precious little time to be children.”

In another story, she described a parent a who was watching students during independent reading time. One child (perhaps her own? I don’t remember) finished reading a book, then ran outside to climb a tree. “Why do you allow them to climb trees during reading time?” this parent asked Piya. “Why don’t you make them read more books?”

“Because,” Piya replied. “They need to climb trees.”