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Posts Tagged ‘Malled: My Unintentional Career In Retail’

Dream of becoming a published author? Read this

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, entertainment, journalism, life, US, work on April 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm
"The Sower," Simon & Schuster logo, ...

“The Sower,” Simon & Schuster logo, circa 1961 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, it’s great. It’s really exciting. It is.

But then there’s this:

Drug-addicted beauty writer Cat Marnell has landed a book deal with Simon & Schuster for her memoir, “How to Murder Your Life.” Marnell, who has been in and out of rehab for her addiction to prescription drugs, famously told us she’d rather “smoke angel dust with her friends” than hold down a full-time job after being fired from Jane Pratt’s Web site, xoJane.com. Now she has chronicled her sexual and narcotic adventures in a book, to include her life as a spoiled rich kid of a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst and her drug-fueled rise through Condé Nast, xoJane.com and Vice magazine…The proposal details her numerous sexual conquests [and] four abortions.

Because, you know, get-up-wash-face-work-hard-sleep-repeat is so…..vanilla. Who cares?

And then there’s the inevitable email I got yesterday, giving me 25 days to buy back several thousand unsold hardcover copies of my second book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, which was published on April 14, 2011 in hardcover and July 2012 in paperback.

They’re being offered to me very cheaply, but I don’t have a spare few thousand dollars right now, nor the deep desire to fill every square inch of our garage with unsold books.

This is stuff you rarely hear about publicly because who dares admit envy of an advance orders of magnitude bigger than yours? For self-indulgent shite?

And no one will even publicly admit that their book didn’t sell out, because then…OMG….you’re a failure! Facebook is like sticking pins in your eyes every day if any of your friends — and this is common among established writers — have indeed become best-sellers. “Friends” being, you know, a word with some variance.

One of them keeps crowing and crowing and then another and then another and you start to think the only thing that seems obvious: “I’m such a loser!”

Um, no.

My publisher, (bless their enthusiasm!), printed too many. Partly because that’s just when e-books began taking off and we sold many more (cheaper) e-books out of the gate than hardcovers. We’re also still in a recession and my book is about low-wage labor so many of my would-be readers might have balked at shelling out the dough for the hardcover; there was a four-week wait list for it at the Toronto Public Library, a friend there told me.

Score!

Hardcover book gutter and pages

Hardcover book gutter and pages (Photo credit: Horia Varlan)

The publishing industry is a moving target and every single book they choose to publish is a gamble, a guess and some tightly-crossed fingers.

Yes, some authors — Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, et. al. — are safe bets. They’ve become like major league baseball teams, winning franchises. But I know of one best-selling author (I’ve seen the numbers) whose two previous books barely sold more than 1,000 copies before she Hit It Big.

So you never know.

So, this week, feeling foolish and weary and yet, and yet, and yet…working on my book proposal. I will never get $500,000 for any book I propose. To even get $100,000 would be a lovely thing, but also nothing I can expect.

So, as my new agent said, “If you’re really burning to write this one”…

And I said, “Yes, I am” and she said:

Burn, baby, burn!

Thank you! Merci! Gracias! Danke!

In behavior, blogging, culture, journalism, life, world on March 28, 2013 at 1:39 pm

With 4,180 people now following Broadside, and 1,360 posts here to choose from,

Broadside Benefit 1979

Readers include:

— a tour guide in Ghana

– a medical student in Lebanon

– a journalism student in New Zealand

– a Toronto interior designer

– a translator in Berlin

– a mother-of-six in Australia

– an American father-of-five

– a Canadian woman living and working on a remote Australian sheep farm

– a Manhattan cinematographer

– a high school student in Paris (salut Hanae!)

I enjoy this diversity — although it’s tough to satisfy all of you!

I began my career when I was 17, when I sold three photos as the cover of a magazine in Toronto, so you’ll find posts about how to freelance and how to find work and how to deal with it once you’ve got it.

Many of you, like me, have traveled widely, and/or are currently, or hope to be, or have been ex-patriates. We’re  people who share a deep curiosity about the rest of the world and have explored it firsthand. My second husband is both American born, and of Hispanic (Mexican) heritage, so I also live some of these cross-cultural challenges in our marriage.

Some of the things I blog about:

How to live an ethical life?

What are our best “next steps”? And what will we do if they don’t work out?

What contributions, paid or volunteer, can we make to the world?

How can we and our families live (well) in a time of income inequality and restricted access to good jobs?

Can I really produce art — writing, music, dance, design, film, video — that touches people? How?

What drives creativity?

What does it take to make  friendship, family or marriage thrive, or wither?

What is success and (how) can I achieve it?

Making a home beautiful — on a budget!

As a twice-married Canadian who has lived in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, London, Paris, New Hampshire, Cuernavaca, Mexico and now suburban New York, I know we each see the world through glasses colored by race, gender, sexual preference, education, socioeconomic class, nationality and religion, (or none), just to name a few.

Toronto Skyline

Toronto Skyline (Photo credit: Bobolink)

I earn my living, and have since my undergrad years at the University of Toronto, as a writer of journalism and non-fiction. I’ve worked as a reporter for three major daily newspapers, most recently the New York Daily News. I write often for The New York Times, with five business features for them in the past year, with two more to come.

I’m also the author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, so if you haven’t checked them out, I hope you will. My newest, “Malled”, a memoir of working retail and an expose of low-wage labor in the U. S., is being published in China in June. I’m excited!

I won my National Magazine Award for a humor essay about getting divorced — that’s fairly typical for me. Life’s too short for constant draaaaaaama, and panicking — as they taught us in lifeguard school — usually just kills you faster.

I began writing Broadside in July 2009. Please take some time to roam around the archives.

Here are some of my favorite posts, all from 2009:

Why I read obituaries, and you should too.

— How summer camp changed my life.

— Why being a journalist feels like joining a tribe (in a good way!)

– What it feels like to try to sell your non-fiction book (it sold!)

Thank you for reading Broadside!

I'm Caitlin Kelly, author here.

I’m Caitlin Kelly, author here.

The wearying, growing toll of “emotional labor”

In behavior, business, cities, culture, journalism, life, Media, news, urban life, US, work on March 26, 2013 at 2:18 am
emotion icon

emotion icon (Photo credit: Łukasz Strachanowski)

It’s a phrase some of you might not know, even as your every workday includes it:

Does your job require you to manage your emotions, or the way you express those emotions, to meet organizational expectations? This is called ‘emotional labor.’ People in a service-oriented role – hotel workers, airline flight attendants, tour operators, coaches, counselors – often face the demands of emotional labor.

Arlie Hochschild created the term ‘emotional labor’ in 1983 to describe the things that service workers do that goes beyond physical or mental duties. Showing a genuine concern for customers’ needs, smiling, and making positive eye contact are all critical to a customer’s perception of service quality. These types of activities, when they’re essential to worker performance, are emotional labor.

When you face angry clients, or people who are generally unpleasant, emotional labor can be particularly challenging. A large part of that challenge comes from the need to hide your real emotions, and continue to ‘smile and nod your head,’ even when receiving negative or critical feedback.

Companies often place a great deal of strategic importance on service orientation, not only to external customers but to colleagues and internal clients as well. While emotional labor is applicable to many areas of business, the consequences are probably greatest in traditional service roles. However, in an increasingly service-oriented marketplace, it’s important to understand how emotional labor affects workers, and what organizations can do to support and manage any issues.

People who serve others in customer-facing jobs — like waitress/er, bartender, nurse, flight attendant, public transit workers and retail staff, to name only a few — shoulder this significant burden with every shift.

When I took a part-time retail job, which I describe candidly in my 2011 memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, I didn’t really get how hard emotional labor is. Now I do!

Part of it is the assumption, if you work in a service job like retail — and a snotty assumption increasingly made in a time of growing income inequality — that the person serving you has never attended or graduated college or traveled or can speak foreign languages. (All of which our staff of 15 could or had.) We really didn’t need to be spoken to sloooooowly in words of one syllable, as we so often were.

And then there was the bad-customer behavior — which we were expected to ignore, or greet with indulgent smiles — The tantrums! The insults! The whining and finger-snapping and eye-rolling.

With a grateful sigh, I left retail work on December 18, 2009.

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

English: Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But my writing business is pushing many of the same buttons.

A few recent examples from my freelance writing life:

– The young PR official from a company I’m profiling who Tweets my visit, (alerting all my staff and freelance competitors to my story), and then, (oh, irony), accused me hotly of “betraying” him by finding and interviewing sources he hadn’t pre-selected, approved and overseen. His naivete in tweeting leaves me shocked and furious, but in front of him, I pretend it’s not that big a deal because I really need to get this story finished.

–An editor assigned me five stories then told me she was leaving her position the following week. I felt a mix of confusion, annoyance and fear I might not get paid without her there; instead, I simply wished her well in her next project. (And, funny thing, the final two fell through, and cost me income I expected to earn. I did get paid, six weeks after invoicing.)

– A lawyer, a partner in a major D.C. firm, a story source, talks for 30 minutes — then tells me “this is all off the record.” In an email, he insists I print every word as he wrote it to me later, a promise I make but know I can’t keep because I don’t edit these stories. I’m now scared he’ll make my life hell, annoyed at his lack of understanding of how journalism works and sick to death of people threatening me!

Technically, I don’t have to do this for any employer (that would be me!), but I do…because maintaining my composure in the face of endless bullshit, no matter what I actually feel about it, is still just as essential to keeping sources cooperative, getting editors to answer/return my calls and emails and making sure I actually get paid.

Being self-employed offers no protection from emotional labor! We’re all in the service industry now, kids.

Do you perform emotional labor in your job?

How does it affect you?

Writers aren’t circus bears!

In art, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, entertainment, journalism, life, Media, work on February 23, 2013 at 12:32 am
Canada Reads 2013

Canada Reads 2013 (Photo credit: gorbould)

Here’s a thoughtful recent essay from Canada’s National Post:

There is a clause on page five of my book contract that states, “The Author must make herself available to the media to promote the work.”…Not only does literary life seem to require a new kind of written personal transparency, the obligations that follow publication seem to have become increasingly more invasive.

How is “available” defined when we can reveal our private lives in real time via a variety of different digital outlets? When accessing almost any author with immediate, unfiltered comment and criticism is a click away? How much does the media, and the public, want, need or even deserve?

As writers feel more and more pressure to be 24/7, real-time public figures, we need to consider those who are disclosure-averse, who prefer to hide away and let their work stand as they have constructed it.

Writing is a solitary act, while publishing is a shared one, and skill at being a likable public figure who gives great readings and interviews is in no way a quality of producing quality literature.

It’s certainly not news that the Internet is not exactly a bastion of thoughtful dialogue and critique — it’s a vile, abusive place that no amount of “haters gonna hate” can ease the blow of. The result of putting oneself “out there” is commonly getting badly beat up, shattering your confidence in yourself and your work…

Exposure can be a terrifying and exhausting process, the demand for the author to step well out into the fray constant…

Being good at self-exposure and promotion doesn’t make you a better writer, it makes you a more popular one.

This resonated deeply for me.

As you read this, I’m at an assisted-living facility about 10 minutes’ drive from my home, doing another public event for my retail memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

I’m not being paid for it, which I sometimes am, (usually $50 to $250 for a small, local event.) A local indie bookseller will be there with a box of my books and a credit card machine. (If I sell them, they don’t count for royalties, i.e. lowering the initial advance payment with every sale, albeit a tiny fraction of the cover price the publisher actually pays the author.)

It’s showtime, folks!

This, my second book, came out April 2011 in hardcover, July 2012 in paperback, but  — like many authors — I’m still out there selling it to the public and press when possible. If it doesn’t keep selling, it will disappear from bookstores, go out of print and die. Staying silent and invisible seems unwise.

Before almost every event I have no idea, really, how many people will show up, or in what mood, or with what level of interest in me or my topic. Someone in the crowd might get nasty. I might fill the room — and not sell a single book. (My book discusses low-wage labor, and both times this has happened was after addressing library audiences in two very wealthy towns, Scarsdale, NY and Westport, CT.)

Frankly, it’s stressful.

The last event I did was in January at a local library on a bitterly cold night. I was suffering terrible bronchitis, my barking cough frequent and loud. To my delight, a friend came, as did a woman who had heard me months earlier, and she brought two friends. One man blurted “I love your book! I stayed up til 1:30 last night reading it.” Which was, of course, all lovely.

Then I asked one audience member, working retail, what she sells: “Clothing, to women your size.”

Holy shit. That hurt! I smiled my usual bland, friendly, I-didn’t-feel-a-thing smile. But her impertinent and bizarrely personal remark still hurts, weeks later.

Writers are hungry to be read, to communicate our ideas and passions, but we’re not schooled or trained — nor eager for, or desirous of, sustained public attention and unsolicited, often anonymous, commentary.

We do this public song-and-dance because we have to, because we’re proud of and love our books and want them to be read as widely as possible. But many writers are ambivalent about, even resentful of, the misleading and false sense of intimacy our public appearances create with audiences.

You don’t know us.

You just know what we wrote. 

When doing public and press events, no matter how stung or annoyed you feel, you have to react quickly and calmly, as I did on live radio with 2 million listeners on The Diane Rehm Show.

And I won’t rant here about the public, permanent and often anonymous “reviews” on amazon, some so vicious they’ve left me shaking: “Bitter, pretentious and lazy, lazy, lazy” wrote one.

Many writers are desperate to be published, and would kill for the chance to garner lots of media and/or public attention. For their work, yes, of course!

But you personally ? To have your looks, personality, clothing, diction, mannerisms and family discussed (and quite possibly dissed) by curious strangers?

Maybe not so much.

If you’re interested in writing-as-process, here’s a two-part interview I gave recently to fellow writer Nancy Christie, whose many questions were intelligent and thought-provoking.

Do less, slowly, and take more breaks — but can you?

In behavior, business, culture, journalism, life, urban life, US, work on February 11, 2013 at 1:49 am

Now there’s an un-American sentiment!

A 2011 poll found that Americans had left 9.2 unused vacation days that year.

Time Selector

Time Selector (Photo credit: Telstar Logistics)

With a recession still in play for millions who would like nothing more than the chance to work 40 or more paid hours per week, working less is a privileged notion, a message meant for those of us lucky enough to have jobs, or freelance work.

It’s also a difficult-to-impossible luxury for people whose jobs come in shifts that require seven to 12 hours of non-stop work: cops, nurses, public transit workers, cabbies and firefighters, to name a few. One taxi driver I spoke to in Montreal, a man of 42, this week told me he works 70 hours a week — and barely makes $700 for his trouble.

From The New York Times:

THINK for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings?

 More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

I admit, I heartily agree. I do all of these:

daytime workouts

short afternoon naps

longer sleep hours

more time away from the office

longer, more frequent vacations

while also being very aware that many people — like the millions working retail jobs, for example — enjoy zero flexibility in when and how they schedule their time. When I worked the 1-9pm shift during my time as a sales associate at The North Face, (the subject of my book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail), our “dinner” break might be ordered at 4 or 5pm.

And, with job security a hopeless fantasy, many office workers are simply too busy, or too scared to be seen “slacking off”, to even leave their desk for a meal, let alone head out for a walk, bike ride, yoga class or the gym during their workday.

I’ve stayed freelance for the control it gives me over my daily schedule and yearly activities. I just took two weeks away from my home/office in New York to visit Ontario and Montreal, and spent three of those days working.

Thanks to wi-fi and my laptop, and my work, I can basically work almost anywhere. After a grueling full day of interviewing people for a Times story on Wednesday, I came home and finished up an email interview, a quick turnaround of 500 words for a new client, at 10:30 that night. So much for Montreal nightlife!

I’ll be in D.C. for a few days in early May, and probably visit Jose in Tucson in late May where he’ll be teaching. We’ve planned a two-week trip to Newfoundland in September. That’s already 5 to 6 weeks’ vacation planned for 2013, with a break for me every three months or less. Whenever I pull in a decent income, the first impulse I have — paradoxically perhaps — is to take some time off, to travel, to see some art or ballet or theater to re-boot my creative juices and simply enjoy life.
Time me

Time me (Photo credit: mrlins)

Also from the Times article:

Along the way, I learned that it’s not how long, but how well, you renew that matters most in terms of performance. Even renewal requires practice. The more rapidly and deeply I learned to quiet my mind and relax my body, the more restored I felt afterward. For one of the breaks, I ran.

I’ve noticed this in my breaks as well — even a full 24 hours fully devoted to one’s own schedule of amusement can prove extremely restorative.

My final day in Montreal could have been a frenzy of rushed shopping or sight-seeing. Instead a friend from the 1980s when I worked there at the Gazette joined us for lunch. We reminisced for more than 3 hours. I then went for an exfoliation, an hour of bliss and eucalyptus-scented steam, and Jose and I went to a terrific and lively new restaurant, Hotel Herman, for dinner. The joint was jumping. We sat at the central bar and bumped elbows with fellow diners, one of whom was a museum curator from Chantilly who showed me a photo on her cellphone of her horse, Kalinka.
Our Montreal meals usually lasted 1.5 to three hours. Just not rushing was a great relief and deep, unaccustomed pleasure for two journalists who have been working to deadline since our undergrad years at college.
We’re back home now, a little broke but sated and refreshed.
How often during your day do you take a break?
What do you do to recharge?
Do you take vacations?

What’s a word worth?

In blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, Money, work on January 25, 2013 at 4:17 am
Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the suggestion of the ever-helpful C., whose blog Small Dog Syndrome is consistently sparky, a meditation on the value — literally — of words.

She asked me to talk a bit about how the writing business has changed, but what’s as interesting to me is how much, in some ways, it hasn’t, for centuries. The English majors here, or lovers of the classics, will know that Charles Dickens used to write really long novels, partly because he was paid per installment of each book, each installment being 32 pages in length.

Dickens was, in some unlikely way, a blogger — he created demand for his writing by offering it only as a serial, published in pieces, making his audience wait, hungrily, for the next bit, and the next.

In journalism, as long as I’ve been doing it which is, God help me, more than 30 years, we are still paid by the word. Yup. Every single word.

I have a pretty clear set of metrics now what’s needed to produce a readable 1,00o to 3,000 word magazine or newspaper piece.

This usually means one source per 250 words, so when I write a 2,500 word story, as I’ve been doing the business section of The New York Times, I have to find and interview, usually, at least 10 people, sometimes more. If I am paid $1/word, low for magazines but high for newspapers, that’s $2,500.

My job is not only to hit my final word count but to estimate efficiently how much time I need to research, interview, write, revise and answer all the editors’ questions — additional time I can’t predict but have to build into my estimate. I aim for an hourly rate of $100 to $150, so let’s call it 20+ hours: 10 interviews at 60 minutes each; three for Internet and other research and seven for writing, revising and editing.

Obviously, each of these is flexible — only the final payment is not!

The larger challenge, and this is very much a result of the Internet, is that rates are so low and stories are so short — when the most you can earn is $700 or $300 or maybe $1,500 — do the math.

If you want, and need, to earn $30,000 or $50,000 or $80,000 a year, (which includes paying the full 15% of your Social Security tax, normally 50 percent of which your employer pays, and saving for retirement as you have no 401(k) match), you will be producing at a rate that can quickly exhaust you.

A few years ago, big magazines in the U.S. were paying $3/word, and you could get a long assignment — I did a piece for Glamour maybe 15 years ago that, then, paid $6,000. That size check, now, is very difficult to attain — at $1/word you’re literally having to work three times as hard for the same income.

I recently turned down two assignments, one from a Canadian newspaper whose chain would have re-used my story nationally for no additional pay and from a college alumni magazine, one for $300, one for $350. I’m getting to the point I don’t want any assignment worth less than $1,000. Exceptions might be made for editors with whom I have an ongoing relationship — i.e. repeat sales and no revisions.

Writing books is a little different, if only because you’re expected to produce 80,000 to 100,000 words for most books — e-books and self-published works might be different and some authors do quickies of 30,000 words. And book advances are challenging indeed; typically 1/3 to 1/4 when you sign your contract, another payment when you turn in your work (usually a year later); when the book is published (another six month wait) and, as happened with “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, the final payment came a year after publication.

Not exactly an advance!

Of course, the essential problem, for writers in every genre, remains:

Which words are the right ones?

How can you learn to write better when all you do is write?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, education, journalism, Media, work on January 20, 2013 at 8:48 pm

I ask all of you this question — since the vast majority of you are bloggers and some are very serious and determined producers of journalism, non-fiction and fiction.

Next week I am not writing. Next week, to borrow my favorite of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Effective People, I’m shutting down the intellectual production line to “sharpen my saw”.

Selfridges has a Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop wh...

It’s time to NOT make the doughnuts for a while! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I plan to do everything but write: sleep, watch the sky, talk to my Dad, hang out with Jose, see my high school friend Sally and pat her dog Lucy and watch the fire glow in fireplaces and attend my favorite small-town auction. We’ll eat some good food, sleep late, go for long walks through Toronto streets and along Lake Ontario.

I will also read a number of books by career writers and editors and teachers of non-fiction that I hope will help to improve my writing. I’ve been cranking copy for a living since 1978, decades before some of you were born. It is a rare and essential luxury to withdraw and really think deeply and broadly about process. About how to do it even better.

I recently finished On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, who is still teaching in Manhattan, at the age of 88. It is a truly stellar book. I cannot recommend it too highly! Don’t simply trust me — it’s sold 1.5 million copies since he wrote it in 1974 (revised many times since.)

I’m going to read this book, by New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg, whose brief pieces are lovely, clean and graceful.

And this one, by Roy Peter Clark, whose session last September in Decatur, at the Decatur Book Festival, was sold out, a huge auditorium where they wouldn’t let me, a fellow speaker, even sit on the floor to hear him.

New Paperback Non-Fiction - Really?! 07/366/20...

New Paperback Non-Fiction – Really?! 07/366/2012 #366project (Photo credit: pgcummings)

I’m eager to read this new book, Good Prose, another guide to writing well, reviewed recently in The Wall Street Journal:

Messrs. Kidder and Todd claim that one reason their relationship remained productive for so many years was that “we shared a code common to men of our era, which meant that we didn’t expect much, or feel like offering much, in the way of intimacy or ‘sharing.’ ” Maybe so, but in a sense they were exceptionally intimate: One of the secrets of Mr. Kidder’s success is that he is not afraid of writing badly in front of his editor, which frees him from the paralysis of writer’s block. I’ve worked as a magazine editor for 20 years and done some writing on the side, and I’d say that the relationship you have with your editor should be like the one you have with your urologist—you should feel comfortable showing him unspeakable, embarrassing things and trust that he will not recoil but endeavor straightforwardly and discreetly to help. (The writer-editor relationship should also have a confidentiality akin to attorney-client privilege or, perhaps more aptly, to that of the psychiatric couch.)

One of the things I very rarely talk about here at Broadside, when I talk about writing for a living, is my relationships with my editors, without whom I would starve in a month. Unlike blogging, my writing for print and books always goes through multiple layers of editing by others, often people I will never meet and may not even speak to.

These relationships have tremendous power and weight:

– I have to retain my voice

– I have to insure my material remains factually accurate

– My stories need to retain their rhythm and tone; like a piece of musical composition, none of my word choices or sentence lengths or paragraph lengths are arbitrary

– I need to be sure the many underlying themes are carried through and clear to my readers

But, I also need

– to retain long-term relationships in a small industry where people move around a lot, but stay in the biz for decades

– be well-paid

– keep, as much as I can, a reputation as someone that agents, editors, assistants and publicists really want to work with again

This is the single greatest inherent weakness of blogging. Other than your followers, who is editing you and forcing you, on every single story, to up your game?

I recently read the post of blogger who said — and I could not tell if she was serious — that she expected an agent to find her and publishing success would follow.

Well, maybe.

Journalism and commercial book publishing is a team sport! I cannot emphasize this enough. For someone who may have zero writing training or work-shopping experience, who has never been heavily edited — which means answering a lot of questions from a lot of people who now control some or all of your career and income and reputation — it will be one hell of a shock.

When fellow blogger Mrs. Fringe and I met for coffee a while back, I learned how serious and determined she is to publish fiction. But she’s also shown it to some of the nation’s toughest editors and they were encouraging.

My first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” got some terrific reviews; Booklist (which librarians read to decide what to buy) called it “groundbreaking and invaluable.” But it was very lightly edited so I had no true feeling for a hands-on editing job until I got my editors’ notes back on “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

I was alone, in a motel room in Victoria, B.C., visiting my mother. I read them and panicked. Totally panicked.

Basically, my editor — who was, of course, half my age — said “I really like Chapters 11 and 12.”

What about Chapters One through 10?

Suffice to say that 30 years, three big newspaper staff reporting jobs and thousands of freelance articles had still not prepared me, emotionally or intellectually, for this intense level of trust, revision and sheer hard work.

What are you doing these days to sharpen  and grow your writing skills?

The writer’s week (hack, cough, wheeze)

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, life, Technology, work on January 18, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Some of you may have noticed I’ve slowed down the frequency of when I post. After three and a half years and 1,300 posts, I’m a little pooped.

Truthfully, while the blog adds five to 15 new subscribers every day, readership is stagnant, which has dimmed my enthusiasm. There are only so many hours in the day, and most them I have to devote to income-producing work.

But I’ve been busy as hell, even if less visible here.

I loved my hooky day last Friday, feeling healthy again for the first time in three weeks. As North American readers know, we’re in the middle of a major flu epidemic. So I thought, great! I’m healthy again, and did the usual Kelly thing, of 0 to 60 in six seconds. Everyone in our family seems to run at two speeds, reallyfast or asleep.

Saturday I spent much of the afternoon — sexy! — reading three white papers about the use of mobile technology in retail, an issue I needed to understand before some meetings later this week. Then I spent more time on the phone grilling two friends in Silicon Valley, who understand tech, about an idea I have so I could start to see every possible problem and obstacle.

Basically, I’m living the very story I wrote, trying to reinvent myself and transfer some of my skills, knowledge and contacts into a few new areas, especially ones that pay a lot better than journalism. In March 2007, I kept working (while ill) and landed in the hospital with a 104 degree temperature with pneumonia. Three days on an IV taught me that when I get sick (rarely), rest.

(Oh, right, here I am anyway.)

This time, I’m checking my temperature very regularly, that’s for sure.

Sunday was fun, as my New York Times business story about people over 50 re-inventing themselves professionally climbed the charts — to 4th most read and 4th most emailed of the entire Sunday paper. Then 258 people commented, from Moscow to Brazil.

It was highly instructive!

I thought Clare Novak, a single 58-year-old, had made a really interesting and adventurous choice by moving to Islamabad to work. But about 95 percent of commenters were appalled — at her choice of country (it’s work!), at her restricted lifestyle there and by the fact (hello, recession?) she even had to leave the United States in order to get a decent job.

Many people — fairly — criticized me for not explicitly mentioning or addressing the elephant in the room, age discrimination. But I felt there wasn’t much to say other than it’s rampant and illegal.

Monday morning, I took a jazz dance class and almost-sort-of-maybe did a pirouette for the first time in three years, wondering how my new hip would hold up. Then I drove into Manhattan to meet a software executive for a business lunch, a man who made me an interesting business proposition to work with his company. I’m not sure where it will lead, but it’s heartening to feel I have value beyond journalism and publishing.

I spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Big Show, the annual convention of the National Retail Federation, a place I need to visit to keep up on trends, say hello to contacts and gather story ideas. But to reach the Javits Center meant taking the commuter train and bus, then standing and talking for hours…exhausting and very likely exposing me to tons of germs.

English: aerial view from Empire State Buildin...

English: aerial view from Empire State Building West to One Penn Plaza and Jacob Javits Convention Center at Hudson River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Wednesday morning, I was ill again. As I sat there idly reading email, BBC’s World Have Your Say suddenly asked, from London, if I could watch Obama’s speech on guns — and respond to it, live on the radio, for an hour. Luckily, Javits is a short easy walk to the BBC’s offices, so I did it.

We lost half the show’s time to the Algerian hostage crisis (that’s the news biz). I made some notes and dove in anyway.

Weary, frazzled and increasingly  impatient with the tedious rhetoric of gunners, I told one guest of his “insane paranoia” — which resulted in a hateful email from a listener within hours.

Time to go home and sleep and drink tea.

Advertisement from December 1922 issue of the ...

Advertisement from December 1922 issue of the Ladies Home Journal, showing use of abbreviation “Xmas”. Artwork by Coles Phillips. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I’m typing this from the sofa (big exciting change from bed!), warm and calm and enjoying silence. I have been busy pitching a bunch of ideas to everyone from Glamour, Country Living and Ladies Home Journal to a Canadian business magazine. I turned down an offer of $350 from a Canadian newspaper for a story that would have been picked up nationally by their chain (for no additional pay) and would have taken me at least five hours to produce. I try to be thoughtful about what work I commit to. At this point in my life, there are opportunity costs to filling up my work sked with stuff that doesn’t matter much or pay well.

I cashed checks from two private clients for consulting, checked in with the fabulous C. who is putting together my marketing materials for Malled speaking engagements, and set up four phone interviews for Monday and Tuesday. I feel a little better today and plan to sleep all weekend.

I still have to finish two stories next week before we head up to Canada, where we’ll visit my Dad, see friends and I have meetings in Toronto and Montreal.

How was your week?

And for 2013…

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, US on January 1, 2013 at 12:12 am
Now you finally get to meet Jose...

Now you finally get to meet Jose…

I wish you all the best!

Excellent health, steady income, many cups of Earl Grey tea, glorious sunsets and ferociously enveloping hugs. Whatever your dreams may be, I hope you’ll take the first (or second or fifteenth) steps toward attaining them.

For those of you who have not yet read my Welcome or About page, I’m Caitlin Kelly, a New York-based author and journalist, who writes frequently for The New York Times. Some of my journalism, and my two non-fiction books, are here. I grew up in Canada, and moved to the United States in 1988.

My new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” will be published in China — !! — in March.

Broadside continues to grow daily, with a variety of readers that leaves me gobsmacked — high school students to seniors, Spaniards and Australians and fellow Canadians and Indonesians, a Ghanaian charity, a pastor-to-be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a yoga teacher from Cobourg (coming to take your class later this month!), a journalism professor from Iowa, a photographer from Perth, an immigration attorney from Houston, a Jordanian medical student, musicians and artists and writers and moms-of-six. More than 3,300 people have joined so far.

I met Michelle, author of The Green Study, in Minneapolis in October, and hope to meet Elizabeth, who writes Gifts of the Journey about her life in rural England, and C, moving to London, and author of Small Dog Syndrome, in England this summer.

Mrs. Fringe and I have a coffee date in a few weeks as well; a thank-you to her, to Rami Ungar and to C. for their comments, (which my annual tally from WordPress tells me makes them the most prolific here.)

More comments from those who’ve yet to speak up, please!

We’ve enjoyed much lively, intelligent debate here, and I’ve really appreciated your input. With so many readers worldwide — especially when I blog on American political or economic issues — we have a chance for some serious dialogue.

In a global economy, the smartest choice we can make is to connect across borders and ideologies and truly try to understand how the world looks to others many time zones away.

Please email me, or comment here, on what you’d like to see more of at Broadside (or less); one reader has suggested interviews and Q and A’s with some of the interesting and accomplished people I know in various fields, which is a neat idea, so I’m working on that. Also, possibly, more reviews of cultural events (books. shows, art) I think you’d also enjoy.

I’m also always looking for amazing blogs to follow — please share a few with us that you find consistently fab? What do you love about them?

My professional hopes for this year include selling two new non-fiction books, creating a woman-only, invitation-only conference next fall, working with a new assistant, telling more interesting stories and doing more well-paid public speaking.

Personally, enjoying as much time as possible with Jose, (as we head into our 13th year together), some travel (Newfoundland is on our list, as is Paris and London), deepening my friendships and staying healthy. My father is still super-healthy at 83, so we’re heading north to Ontario this month to visit him and see dear old friends.

What are some of your hopes for 2013?

How about Plans C, D and E?

In aging, behavior, books, business, domestic life, family, immigration, journalism, life, love, Media, US, women on December 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm
University College, south side, University of ...

University College, south side, University of Toronto….My alma mater, (Victoria College, actually.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think many of us have a Plan B — or are already living it.

But how many of you have thought far enough ahead about plans C, D and E?

Here’s a recent blog post chosen for Freshly Pressed by a woman who’s 40, in Toronto, the hometown I left in 1986. In it she discusses how it feels to face a life she did not plan for:

Life sure hasn’t gone the way I planned. That’s an understatement. I thought things would be different. As a kid, I used to think that life got easier as you got older. Now here I am pushing 40 and boy was I wrong about that. The older I get, things seem to get more complicated and every decision I have to make feels like the weight of the world.

Being a grown up is hard.

Hell, yes!

I am now at an age that feels absolutely geriatric, 55. Ahead lies a diminishing number of years on this earth, and physical decline. Cool! If I don’t have a few back-up plans (what if I get really sick? what if my husband dies?), I’m toast.

I’m writing this post sitting in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. I came by train from New York on Sunday to compete Monday for a fellowship that, if I win, offers $20,000 for six months to research an issue of interest to me. There are 14 finalists and they’ll pick maybe six.

I have to plan on not winning. Not to be negative, but realistic.

I have so many other ideas I can barely keep track of them all: writing (and I hope selling) two more non-fiction book proposals; three assignments from The New York Times and another which I hope will send me on my next trip; a conference I hope to create next fall; rustling up people to donate their talent for a fund-raiser; planning travel for 2013…

My point is that “planning” your life is truly a fool’s errand, no matter how comforting it appears. You can aim for goals, and likely hit many, if not most. But some you are going to miss.

If you do not grasp this reality, young, you may face a life of tremendous frustration and bitterness.

Some dreams will be snatched out of your grasp. Some people will disappoint you and betray you and lie to you and disappear. Some things are just shitty luck: infertility and/or miscarriage; accidents; disability or chronic illness. You still have to deal!

Here are some of the twists and turns my life took after I chose to leave my hometown of Toronto, age 30:

– Took a newspaper job in Montreal. Hated it! The winter was brutally long, cold and snowy. The crime rate was crazy, and frightening. The paper’s management were…not what I wanted.

– Moved to a small town in New Hampshire to follow the man I planned to marry, an American. I tried harder than I have ever tried in my entire life to make friends, and it proved impossible. He was doing medical training, so he was either gone, exhausted or emotionally withdrawn.

Moved to New York City to make it as a journalist. I was promised a month’s try-out, paid, at Newsweek International. When I called to confirm my start date (after we had moved to NY and bought an apartment and he had changed training programs) they said “Oh, we have an internal candidate. We don’t need you.” I insisted and still did not get the job.

And that’s only the first five years!

My life since 1989 has included a two-year marriage to the doctor; three recessions, four orthopedic surgeries since 2000, losing a few staff jobs, three days in the hospital with pneumonia, dating a convicted criminal…and writing two terrific books, finding a lovely new husband and enjoying my new left hip.

None of this was planned.

Sure, I had some hopes: good journalism jobs (check); get married (check, check); write a book (check, check). So I’m happy with this. But so many things have blown up in my face, metaphorically speaking, along the way as well.

If you are not ready — emotionally, physically and financially — to adapt to whatever life throws at you, you’ll waste a lot of time when things go south in a fog of cognitive dissonance, moaning “What happened?” instead of packing your parachute.

Here’s a great blog post by a young woman writer whose blog I enjoy, about being prepared and knowing she’s not a victim. It is a choice.

How has your life turned out?

As you’d hoped and expected? Or…?

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