Why editors matter more than ever

By Caitlin Kelly

 

nyt

 

Although you might not assume so, this post has been multiply edited, if only by me — albeit a career journalist, writing teacher and writing coach. (Here’s my professional website, if of interest.)

The point of a real live human editor is to have someone smart do this to your copy as needed. 

Today, there’s a widely-shared myth that writing means you simply bang out a bunch of words as they occur to you, hit “send” or “publish” and you’re done!

That intense feeling of Ihavetosaythisrightnow? Not your best product, most likely. You might feel done — but your public and permanent offering might also be misspelled, ungrammatical, incorrect, dull or confusing.

At worst, all of these.

We all need editors!

When I teach writing, and blogging, I emphasize how essential it is to re-read, revise,  and repeat the process, many times. Some of my blog posts have gone through 10 or 15 revisions before you see them — I change words, clarify my thoughts, delete or add.

Very few writers can’t benefit from fresh eyes and ears on their material, whether they’re writing poetry, fiction, non-fiction, journalism or a blog post.

 

malled cover HIGH
My second book, published in 2011

 

I was fortunate indeed to have a very tough editor on my most recent book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail, which was published by Portfolio, a major New York City house focused on business. Next time you sneer: “It’s not rocket science!” remember that my editor had previously worked for NASA…

I turned in the manuscript, which was about 100,000 words and had taken me about nine months to produce, and got back what, in the industry, are known as “notes”.

There were a lot of them, including her approval of Chapters 11 and 12.

“What about Chapters One through 10?”! I wailed.

Revision city, kids.

 

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Every book goes through an editor — usually several!

 

Being a cynical sort, I sometimes wonder how many revisions a published story or book has been through — one best-seller, its editor told a writing conference, needed twelve.

A young journalist I know came within a hairs’ breadth of winning a very prestigious award and received huge accolades for her story; I saw its first draft and knew what a heavy lift it had been for her and various editors, including me, to get it to that point.

Nor did she ever bother to publicly thank me for my help, which rankled.

The New York Times, for which I write freelance, has recently cut its copy editing staff, preferring to hire more reporters. Now I’m seeing more errors in the paper — like the word “et” (albeit a French word, but that’s what editors are for!) instead of “est”.

And good editors do a lot more than correct spelling mistakes.

 

Can your writing or blogging use fresh eyes, or some sharpening?

I offer one-on-one coaching and individual webinars, in person (NYC-area), by phone and by Skype.

Details here and here.

 

 

A reminder from your host…

By Caitlin Kelly

caitlinpratt

Now that Broadside is closing in on 18,000 followers worldwide — eight years after I started writing it — it’s time once more to remind newer readers who exactly they’re reading!

Based in Tarrytown, New York, a gorgeous little town on the east bank of the Hudson River 25 miles north of Manhattan, I’m a published non-fiction author and career journalist, with staff experience at three major daily newspapers, several magazines and numerous digital outlets, from Reuters Money to bbc.com.

Here’s my website, with sample articles from my thousands of published stories — in outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, MORE magazine, Marie Claire, House Beautiful and many others.

A generalist, my work in June ranged from a profile of an L.A. designer for House Beautiful, a story about 3D printing for farmers for a custom publication and this story, about the growing dangers faced by truckers working across the United States.

 

I’m always seeking new clients with a clear sense of what they need and a budget to support a high level of skill and experience

 

A two-time author of nationally reported non-fiction, I also teach other writers and bloggers, through specific webinars of 90 minutes, (30 minutes reserved for your questions),  at $150 and individual coaching, also arranged at your convenience, at a cost of $225 per hour, payable in advance through Paypal.

I work with clients in person, by phone or Skype.

 

malled cover HIGH
My second book, published in 2011

I’ve helped dozens of writers and bloggers worldwide — from Germany to New Zealand to Singapore to Maryland — and my students are delighted with the results and improvements they see, quickly, as a result.

 

One of my coaching clients was published in The New York Times, and another in The Guardian — and neither one are professional writers.

 

I also help public relations professionals better understand how to tell their clients’ stories more effectively, and have worked with teams in New York and California.

 

Email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com!

Thank you FsOB — Friends of Broadside!

By Caitlin Kelly

Nope -- no robots here. Just me.
Nope — no robots here. Just me.

As the blog closes in on 14,000 readers, it’s time once again to say thank you to you for making time in your busy, distracted lives to come visit, comment and join a global conversation.

The blog now has more than 1,700 posts in the archives so if you’re new here, and have the time or interest, you’ll find plenty there — especially on women, travel and writing.

I’m grateful for the variety of people who read Broadside, many of you students and educators, people de facto curious about the world.

Why do I still blog — even after almost six years?

It is, as one colleague noted, a place for me to reflect; as someone who earns her living writing for publication and teaching writing, it’s a rare pleasure to just…write. To think out loud. To not have to hit a deadline or word count.

To know there are always a few people eager to see what’s new here.

I have also had such a great time finally meeting some of you face to face, people who suddenly — as I did — went from words on a computer screen — to laughing new pals.

Like Katie MacLeod, who writes Stories My Suitcase Could Tell, Mallory Guinee, who writes May Meander from Paris, as does, Juliet, who writes Juliet in Paris, (and with whom I had a wild New Year’s Eve there this year), Cadence Woodland, author of Small Dog Syndrome about her fab new life in London and Michelle who writes The Green Study, who met me for coffee a few years ago in her home city of Minneapolis.

A new friend, Mallory Guinee, in Paris, January 2015. We met through our blogs!
A new friend, Mallory Guinee, in Paris, January 2015. We met through our blogs!

I’m grateful for long-time readers and commenters like these (links are to their blogs):

Rami Ungar, a college student in Ohio soon to graduate

Charlene, a photographer roaming the world

Ashok Bhatia, from India

Kathleen Ralf, who teaches high school in Germany

Kate Katharina, a young Irish translator living in Berlin

Lorna Lee.

Ksbeth, who teaches “littles” in Michigan

CandidKay, a fellow journalist, single mom, in Chicago

The Modern Idiot, sardonic incarnate

Dadof5boys, with whom I’ve had many ferocious-but-civil convo’s here

Isn't this gorgeous? It's a lamp on the Pratt campus, where I teach
Isn’t this gorgeous? It’s a lamp on Pratt’s Brooklyn campus, where I teach

I’m now teaching blogging as well, and my students at Pratt are doing terrific work.

Here are their blogs — please check them out!

Save Your Receipts, a fun, practical guide to living frugally in spendy New York City

Secondly American, about life as a second-generation Korean woman

Antisocialite, insider views from a super-stylish observer about the world of fashion

The Shit I Learned In College, with wise and sassy advice for the college-bound American

Want to start or grow your own blog audience?

Or crave some results-oriented coaching from a long-time freelancer for The New York Times, National Magazine Award-winning two-time non-fiction author, I also offer individual webinars and coaching, via phone, email, face to face, (in New York City), and Skype.

Satisfied clients have come to me from New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Maryland, Los Angeles and England, among many others.

Please check out my list of webinars and email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

Want to blog better? Try these 5 tips — and take my webinar!

By Caitlin Kelly

Use your blog to capture and describe history -- like this Paris Unity March, Jan. 11, 2015
Use your blog to capture and describe history — like this Paris Unity March, Jan. 11, 2015

Broadside now has more than 13,000 readers worldwide, and adds new followers daily.

Thanks!

I enjoy blogging and really enjoy the wit and wisdom of those who often make time to comment — ksbeth, modernidiot, ashokbhatia, rami ungar, kathleen r and others. It’s gratifying to converse globally with such interesting people.

I also teach others how to blog (and write) better…

Here are five of the 30 tips I share with the students in my webinar, “Better Blogging.”

I teach blogging at Pratt Institute, a private college in Brooklyn, and love helping others to achieve their goals.

Broadside, almost six years old and with more than 1,700 posts, has been Freshly Pressed six times and cited for its “signature clarity and wit” by this fellow blogger, writing on multi-topic blogs.

I offer my webinar scheduled at your convenience; paid via Paypal, it’s $125 for 90 minutes via Skype or phone which allows time for your questions as well.

I also do individual coaching at $200/hour, with a one-hour minimum; please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

photo(6)

Use photos, videos, drawings — visuals!

I wish more bloggers consistently added quality visual content to their posts. Often, a well-chosen, quirky or beautiful image will quickly pull in a curious reader.

Every magazine or newspaper, and the best blogs and websites, uses illustrations, maps, graphs and photos — chosen carefully after much internal debate by skilled graphics and design and photo editors and art directors, each working hard every single day to lure us in.

A sea of words is both daunting and dull. Seduce your readers, as they do.

Think like an editor

When you write for an editor, (as every journalist and author does), your ideas, and how you plan to express them, have to pass muster with someone else, often several. Their job is to ask you why you think this story is worth doing, and why now. (Just because you feel like hitting “publish” doesn’t mean you should.)

Who is this post — and your blog — written for? Have you made your points clearly?

Would your next post get past a smart editor or two?

Your readers are busy, easily bored and quickly distracted

All readers resemble very small tired children — they have short attention spans and wander off within seconds. Grab them fast!

Woo me with a fab headline

Magazine editors sweat over coverlines, the teasing short sentences they choose to put on their magazine covers, hoping to make you buy that edition. Newspaper editors know they need powerful, succinct or amusing headlines to catch our eye and pull us into a story.

Have you ever studied some of the best heads? “Headless body found in topless bar” is a classic. This is an excellent headline as it immediately made me read the post — it’s bossy, very specific and focused on a place I know well. Sold!

Here’s a link to how to write great heads —  and another.

Break your posts into many paragraphs, and keep them short

Don’t force readers to confront a huge unbroken block of copy! It’s lazy and editorially rude. They’ll just click away, irritated. (I see this on too many blogs.)

HOPING WE’LL WORK TOGETHER SOON!

 

Meta post: my webinars, classes, blogging schedule — welcome new followers!

By Caitlin Kelly

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua
On assignment this year in rural Nicaragua

Just a few housekeeping notes, for followers both longtime and new (thanks!)…

For the past five years, I’ve been posting faithfully three times a week, sometimes more.

Pooped! (Hint: please spend some time poking around the archives, where you’ll find plenty of material, often on books, writing, publishing and freelancing, often titled The Writer’s Week.)

For the nex few months I’ll likely be posting once every four or five days — not every two days — as I’m now teaching three college classes and will be spending a lot of my time preparing for them, teaching and grading students’ work.

So please don’t feel neglected and/or abandoned!

I also offer six webinars on various aspects of writing, blogging and freelancing, details here. They cost $125 for 90 minutes via Skype or phone and satisfied students have come from, literally, across the world — New Zealand to Germany.

I can schedule these any time that suits you, including days, evenings and weekends.

I also coach other writers individually, answering pretty much any question you’d like to throw at me about journalism, writing, publishing non-fiction commercially, memoir. Happy to read your pitches or work-in-progress, be a “first reader”…

I charge $150/hour (with a one-hour minimum), and will be raising that rate to $200/hour in January 2015.

My story in July 2014 Cosmopolitan (U.S. edition)
My story in July 2014 Cosmopolitan (U.S. edition)

I’m teaching writing this fall at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and at the New York School of Interior Design; I have also taught writing at Pace University, New York University, Concordia University and Marymount College. As the author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, for places like The New York Times, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, I know what it takes to succeed in this highly-competitive business.

What can I do to help you? Please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

Come, learn! My next webinars are May 10,17: blogging, interviewing and more

By Caitlin Kelly

FINGERS ON KEYBOARD

For those of you fairly new to Broadside, welcome!

A career journalist, winner of a National Magazine Award, author of two well-reviewed works of non-fiction, each on complex national issues, I now offer webinars a few times a year, designed — after consulting you — to offer the skills you’ve told me are most helpful.

I taught journalism to adults at New York University for five years, and find this individualized approach  fun, and practical. If you need more information on my background and journalism credits and credentials, please visit the about and welcome pages here, or my website, caitlinkelly.com.

Students signed up for my fall webinar series, and individual coaching — thank you! — from Australia, New Zealand, London, Chicago, D.C., California and Connecticut; one student saw her blog’s page views and followers increase as soon as she made the simple change I suggested; more testimonials here.

Even if you enjoy only one webinar a year, ($10.41/month), your sharpened skills can markedly and quickly improve your productivity, audience and satisfaction.

My classes are also friendlier, more affordable and much more personal than sitting in a classroom or the cost and hassle of attending a crowded conference. (I also coach individually whenever it suits you — by phone, Skype and/or email.)

These are the six 90-minute classes, each priced at $125:

 

BETTER BLOGGING

Better Blogging

May 10, 10:00-11:30 a.m. ET

This practical, lively seminar offers more than 30 steps you can take — right away — to boost your blog’s engagement, views and followers; Broadside has more than 10,000 followers now, and grows every single day. To win writing jobs, freelance or full-time, your blog is your best marketing tool. Broadside has been Freshly Pressed six times and chosen as one of 22 in “culture” by WordPress worth reading. Let’s do it!

BUSINESS OF FREELANCING

You, Inc: The Business of Freelancing

May 10, 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm ET

I’ve freelanced full-time since 2006, this time, for local, regional, national and international clients. You can too! In this super-focused, tips-filled webinar, we’ll discuss how much you really need to earn, negotiating, how to find (and keep!) clients and how to maximize your productivity. My clients include Cosmpolitan, Ladies Home Journal and The New York Times and on-line sites HGTV.com, Quartz.com, reuters.com and the Harvard Business Review blog.

 

THINK LIKE A REPORTER

Learn to Think Like a Reporter

May 10, 4:00-5:30 pm ET

If your mother says she loves you, check it out! This class teaches the tips and tricks I’ve gained from working as a staff reporter for three major dailies, including the New York Daily News — and freelancing for The New York Times since 1990. What’s a stake-out? A nut graf? A lede and kicker? Every reporter knows these basics, and if you hope to compete with them — whether you’re blogging, or writing for on-line or print or broadcast or video — this is the stuff you need to know.

 

INTERVIEW TECHNIQUES
Conducting a Kick-Ass Interview

May 17, 10:00 a.m. to 11;30 a.m. ET

No ambitious non-fiction writer, blogger or journalist succeeds without knowing how to conduct probing and well-controlled interviews. I’ve interviewed thousands of sources, from an Admiral to convicted felons, Olympic athletes, cancer survivors, duck hunters and ballet dancers. How to best structure an interview? Should you tape or take notes? What’s the one question every interview should end with? My 30 years’ experience as an award-winning reporter, author of two-well-reviewed books of nationally reported non-fiction — one of which included 104 original interviews — and frequent New York Times writer will help you ace the toughest interviews.

 

PERSONAL ESSAY

Crafting the Personal Essay

May 17, 1:00 p.m – 2:30 p.m. ET

From The New York Times to Elle and Marie Claire — to Thought Catalog, Salon, the Awl, Aeon and Medium — the marketplace for personal essay continues to thrive. How to sell this challenging genre? How to blend the personal and universal? Every essay, no matter the topic, must answer one key question, which we’ll discuss in detail. Having published my own essays in the Times, Marie Claire, Chatelaine and others — and winner of a Canadian National Magazine award for one — I’ll help you determine what to say and in what voice.

 

 

IDEAS

Finding and Developing Story Ideas

May 17, 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m ET

We’re surrounded every single day by dozens of potential story ideas. Recognizing them — and developing them into salable pitches — is the topic of this helpful webinar. And every non-fiction book begins with an idea; developing it into a 30-page book proposal means “saving string”, collecting the data you’ll need to intelligently argue your points. This webinar will help you better perceive the many stories already swirling in your orbit and determine who’s most likely to pay you (well) for them.

Feel free to email me with any questions at learntowritebetter@gmail.com or call me in New York at 914-332-6065.

Sign up and further details are here; I won’t be offering these again until fall 2014, possibly in October.

I look forward to working with you!

Want to study writing/blogging with me? Please take my brief survey!

By Caitlin Kelly

This has been an idea of mine for a while — offering my services to you as a teacher or one-on-one coach.

As some of you know, I’ve taught feature writing at New York University’s School of Continuing Education, where I created a class still being taught there, legal and ethical issues in journalism, and to undergraduates studying journalism at Concordia University in Montreal and Pace University in New York.

With more than 30 years’ reporting, writing and editing experience, my credentials and awards are on my website.  

My magazine work includes More, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Ms., Marie Claire, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Smithsonian, Sports Illustrated, Art & Antiques, Town & Country and many more.

Thanks to my staff work as a reporter for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national daily newspaper; the Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News, the 6th-largest newspaper in the United States, I can help you quickly gather useful sources and produce lively, accurate copy, whether 500 or 5,000 words.

New York Daily News front page on August 9
New York Daily News front page on August 9 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve written two well-reviewed non-fiction books on complex national issues, both of which required many original interviews — 104 for my first book, about women and guns. Where do non-fiction book ideas come from and how do you develop one? Let me tell you how to “save string.”

I’ve interviewed everyone from Olympic athletes to Prime Ministers to convicted felons — and can teach you how to talk to anyone within minutes, put them at ease and gather great information and quotes. How do you structure an interview? When do you lob the hardball questions? People think interviews are easy. They’re not! But they are essential to every non-fiction project.

I’ve sold my personal essays to The New York Times, USA Today, Marie Claire and others; one of which won a Canadian National Magazine Award. Let me help you shape yours!

This blog grows daily, now with more than 6,000 followers worldwide. I’ve been Freshly Pressed six times, a goal for many of you. Let me help with that.malled cover LOW

Feel free to email me at caitlinvancouver@yahoo.com.

I’d like to start teaching this fall, but would like to get a sense how many of you — if any! — have interest in this, and in which topics.

If so, please take this survey! The results are for my use only.

Thanks!

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

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?