When Language Changes

Grant Barrett & Martha Barnette Photo Credit: A Way With Words website

Grant Barrett & Martha Barnette Photo Credit: A Way With Words website

The podcast has become my primary form of cultural enlightenment, and lately I’ve been listening to A Way With Words where Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette answer questions about words and phrases in the English language—or, according to the official description, “A Way with Words is a call-in public radio show about language. It’s heard across the country and around the world by broadcast and podcast.” The subject is apparently inexhaustible, and the hosts are enthusiastic researchers and conversationalists. Besides making me laugh a lot, they’ve taught me a thing or two about this language I’m always going on about, and forced me to look at the reasons behind some of my raving reactions. It turns out I am not alone in my rage over some new turns of the English screw—for instance, using nouns as verbs, such as turning the honorable journal into a self-help regimen (to journal), or overuse of trendy phrases (going forward tagged onto the end of anything with a future, no matter how distant or vague).

Actually, those aren’t the best examples, since I’ll probably always loathe and refuse to use them. The place where I need to loosen up is in adapting to change, understanding that language is a dynamic phenomenon that evolves along with the speaking species. Failure to adapt might, in fact, be seen as failure to evolve. It turns out that much of what we take for granted as gospel already differs from its original usage, only we don’t always know it since the changes occurred before we paid attention, or even eons before we were born. Linguistic change has probably been a part of culture since the first cave dweller uttered his first hello to his cave mate, and they both burst into astonished laughter—or so I imagine the scenario.

As I’ve learned from Grant and Martha, it’s the transitional stage, shortly after a word begins its long, slow journey from one meaning or nuance to another, that’s so hard for some people. It’s during this period that I and others with my sensitivities cringe at the new. The first time I heard the word impact used as a verb it was by a favorite disk jockey on the radio (“We’ll have to see how this development impacts the community”). I was alarmed; I assumed he’d used it incorrectly, and I’d have to re-evaluate my respect for the guy. But soon I was hearing how things impacted other things all the time, and with every utterance I cringed. I know I’m showing my age here; to impact went viral a long time ago, way before the Internet even, and I no longer blink much less cringe at it anymore. I myself have never, however, used impact as a verb. Or journaling. Nor do I say we’re going forward. I absolutely refuse to jump on these linguistic tropes. Oops! I just did it with trope! I remember when that term went viral: I was at a weekend conference with someone who used it repeatedly, until I bluntly asked her what was up. She apologized and said it was indeed a virus she’d caught. How about we ruminate on that for a while, on the word virus, its literal meaning and its YouTube meaning. Look it up. I especially like Definition #3: any corrupting or infecting influence.

As you can no doubt tell by my tone and my avowed “refusal to jump on linguistic tropes,” I have yet to integrate my new awareness of language as a changing phenomenon with my gut reactions. What can I say? I’m working on it. Evolving. I think I’ll go journal write in my journal about it. Maybe I’ll change going forward someday. On second thought, maybe I won’t.


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Editor Interview

I’d like to direct my readers to an interview on another writer’s blog. Alex, who posts interviews with writers, editors and even characters out of  fiction, quizzed me on my editorial work. You can read it here at her website. And don’t forget to come back and comment on it. Thanks!


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The Book Biz: A Changing Landscape

booksI’m finally relenting when it comes to contemporary methods of publishing, promoting, and selling books, after a year of reading almost exclusively on the Kindle. I’m a believer—I like it primarily for the ease of reading while eating!—and I’m joining the kids, as I call the go-getter 30- and 40-somethings who seem to read, write, publish and promote 24/7.

My main entry into this world is Goodreads, a fantastic site on which I spend far too much time. At one point I even requested an email every time someone commented on one of my discussion groups, but after a few days spent responding every two minutes to the beeps in my email box, my soaring blood pressure compelled me to cut and run. And I still spend too much time there! It’s probably equivalent to the way other people are with Facebook, where I rarely venture.

I come back from my journey bearing gifts for readers. In case you’re not aware of this new way of buying cheap or even free ebooks, I’ve got a list as long as my arm for you. These services email a list of books tailored to your tastes (though I’ve found their aim a bit off in this department) and with a click a digital book gets delivered to your electronic reading device. Rarely does a book cost more than $3.99, and many are free. Most are indies, that is, they’re self-published by the authors or a very small company. I can’t vouch for their literary quality in toto, but I’ve ordered about eight books by now, and thoroughly enjoyed five of them. That’s a pretty good percentage, especially since all but two of the books were free, and those two were just 99 cents each.book with legs

There’s another side to this story besides the reader’s. For book authors and publishers these services will, for fairly reasonable prices, list your book  in one of their mailing blitzes. Many Goodreads authors report success with some of these programs. One drawback however is that a book has to have a track record before they’ll accept it—usually a certain number of reviews on Amazon or other sites.

Below is a list of the services I’ve encountered. I’m assuming most readers of this blog are more interested in the reading side of the biz rather than publicity—but of course you can find that information on the sites.

logo Fussy LibrarianThe Fussy Librarian sends subscribers a daily email. I like this service a lot, not least because they also list writing and editorial services such as mine, gratis.

Bookbub. This is the only one I still subscribe to. I used to get Book Daily as well, but I found that Bookbub has the best deals. The books I  liked came through them.

Bookblast sends email sale alerts in reader’s favorite genres as available.

Book Gorilla sends a daily email alert with the best deals on Kindle books that match your reading preferences, including bestsellers and freebies.

E reader news. Free books for the Kindle including some by well-known authors. Specializing in Kindle books, it includes tips and tricks for the device, promotional deals, and sample chapters.

rainbow album

Kindlenation Daily. As the name suggests, this site also specializes in Kindle books, and is connected to Amazon. In case you didn’t know it, Kindle is part of theAmazon behemoth, set for world domination. I’m not knocking it: hey, when you’ve got a good product and treat your customers well, that’s what happens. “All Things Kindle Every Day” is their slogan, and they mean it! This is a website to visit, not just to register with and passively receive a daily list, though there’s that option. But there’s a lot here to explore: Kids Corner, Ebook Tracker, Kindle deals, to name a few. Note: Book Gorilla (see above) is prominently displayed on their  home page, so I assume they’re connected, as many of these services might be. I haven’t gone that far or deep with my research. Yet.

Barnes & Noble . Good ol’ B&N. Started life as a pretty good bookstore, even if it is a chain, and when the landscape started changing they got with the program by producing their own electronic reader, The Nook.  It’s probably one of the reasons they’re still standing, while the rest of the chains have crumbled to dust. Good for them! I didn’t see any email service, but there’s a page onsite promoting Nook books for under $5 that changes daily.

BookBuzz. From what I can tell, BookBuzz doesn’t do the email thing for readers; they’re more of a publicity service for authors, and they’re as pricey as publicists usually are.


And that does it for my list! If anyone knows of anymore services like these, please let me know in a comment box.

I plan to use at least one of these, most likely BookBub, next time I self-publish.

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Some Awesome Editing Going On

Wow! I’ve just been reading a bunch of interviews with editors, and I am beyond impressed. I thought I was a great editor, but these people are fantastic, at least from what they say. What most impresses me is that they read through the material more than once, and make more than one pass at editing it. I’m wondering what they charge, since I’ve rarely if ever been paid enough to go through a book-length manuscript more than once, though I’d love to spend that kind of time on every job.

money tree

Below is a comment I made on the site regarding one of the interviews, followed by URLs for other resources. Yes, here I am,  promoting the competition—but I want people to read these: they explain the editing process and show how hard an editor works.


Comment In Response to Kris Kendall’s Interview

What a smart, interesting, insightful interview! Everything Kris Kendall says here about editing is right on, and a few of her points stood out for me—in particular her parting advice to authors who go the self-editing, error-prone route. In just a few sentences Kendall captures the essence…of indie publishing’s reputation. I wonder if young writers realize how radically altered the publishing landscape has become in just a few short years? Because so much of this is relatively new, many lifelong readers still don’t take it seriously; some look down on ebooks as  unreal. I  confess it took me—a reader, writer, and editor—a while to come around, to start seeing ebooks as real as those I can hold in my hand. It’s a matter of acculturation; for me it took a year or so of reading on the Kindle. Some people will never use an electronic reader, though, and they’ll never come around—which is why print book publishers should stop fretting; they aren’t dead and buried yet, and never will be. The point is, our writing, at least in digital format, will never be taken seriously if writers continue to publish books full of typos, grammatical errors, and bad punctuation (the typos alone are bad enough).

As a reader I’ve discovered more well-written, entertaining indie ebooks than I expected to find: they’ve far outnumbered the badly written. Yet even the well-written  contain mistakes; one that I actually loved repeated the same mistake over and over. If that author hired an editor, she was lousy at her job. Why should we writers care? We should care because ebooks rife with errors contribute to a bad collective image…they implicate the business as a whole. My compulsive editing habit might be neurotic, but hey, someone’s got to stay on the case! Sloppy work makes me cringe, and if I have to wade through a lot of careless crap, I stop reading, and never get to uncover the literary gems that just might lie beneath.

It’s bad when writers think they don’t need an editor, and just as bad when they think good editing should come cheap. Writers who expect to pay an artist decent money for a cover…stun me with some of their proposed payments for editing. I’ve frequently taken on a job that, once it’s finished and I calculate the hours, ends up paying less than minimum wage. Editing is a profession, not a game or a hobby. At the very least it is work; and…editors pay rent like everybody else. We deserve decent compensation.

I appreciate your posting these editorial interviews. They highlight the complexity of the skills involved in editing and go a long way towards improving public perceptions…

Some Useful Resources:

Easy Reader:  http://ilovetoreadyourbooks.blogspot.com


The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner

Blog with all four editors’ interviews:


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Writers Are Workers


Ever since I began blogging in 2007 I’ve posted an annual Labor Day semi-rant defending the high salaries of baseball players (yes, defending them) and complaining about the economics of being a writer. Writers have much in common with baseball players—but not, unfortunately, the money. You can read the baseball half of the post here . Following is my defense of higher pay for writers and editors.

It goes without saying that poets and writers do not make big bucks. What we have in common with baseball players, however, is wide misperception of our work. People seem to think that writers, especially those who don’t have a dozen fat books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble (e-books haven’t yet achieved the same status) don’t deserve to be paid, because we aren’t really working: writing, like baseball, is viewed by those who’ve never done it as pure fun and games. They imagine writers as dilletantes who loll about all day in our pajamas fiddling with words. Unlike the factory worker or waitress or computer technician, we enjoy what we do. Besides, what do we contribute to society?womanonsofa

I readily admit that my work is not as laborious as a day in the coal mines. What I do, however, is work, and like other workers I deserve a living wage—yet time and again I discover that few people agree with this principle. For instance: several years ago I taught a creative writing class for seniors in the upscale apartment complex where I lived. I charged a mere $5.00 per class, after trying for $10 and nobody showing up. But wait—there’s more to this story.

I didn’t mind the pennies too much since I love teaching and hoped that by doing it I’d attract clients to my writing services . Sure enough, I soon received a call from one of my students’  friends who was working on a memoir. This is just my line! Helping another writer structure her work, eliciting someone’s story and talent, editing her words and sentences–this is my favorite kind of work. And this woman’s story held elements of fascination for me; we talked for a good half hour. I told her how I work and explained the process by which I’d help her complete and revise her book, and advise her on publication routes. We scheduled an appointment for our first meeting. Before we hung up I said, “The only thing we haven’t discussed is my fee.”

After a moment of dead air she said, her voice full of outrage, “You mean you charge?”Money-Tree

I had never met this woman. She didn’t know me. She called me out of the blue, thinking I’d be glad to donate my time, experience and skills out of the goodness of my heart. Can you imagine calling a car mechanic, or a piano tuner, or any other skilled worker expecting free service? This incident still knocks me out whenever I think of it—and I’ve run into others like it: not quite as blatantly insulting, but just as clueless.

Okay, that’s “creative writing.” So let’s talk journalism—surely a profession, no? Except for the few journalists who live at the top of the heap—those who publish in Vanity Fair or The New Yorker, for instance—we’ve never been paid fairly. Before the online phenomenon,  I wrote for magazines and newspapers, earning $50 here, $100 there, sometimes a whopping $800. I wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the East Bay Express, and even the SF Chronicle, with an occasional coup like once for Mother Jones.  Since the coming of the Internet, however, I cannot believe I complained about low pay.


With all these entrepreneurs getting rich online, you’d think that a writer’s rate of pay might rise. Instead, things went from bad to woefully worse. Go to the job sites—ElanceGuruMedia Bistro—and browse through the ads. Online employers offer $10 or $20 for 500-word articles of the kind that once brought in $100. They want ghostwriters to do 300-page books for $500. My proposals are consistently rejected for bids that are “too high.” Recently someone wanted an editor to put together an erotic anthology. You’d think since I’ve done a dozen of them I’d be a shoo-in. Not! Knowing they’d never pay it, I lopped off half the $3000 I used to get for the same work—and my bid was again rejected as “too high.”

I’ve gotten nasty emails telling me I’ve got chutzpah asking for so much money—and I give back as good as I get, firing off workers’ rights messages. One reason they get away with paying so little is that the Internet makes it seem as if anyone and everyone can write, and all writers are created equal. There’s always a newbie or incompetent willing to write for bubkes. You might have noticed a deteriorating quality of the written word.


I’ve done online work that, when I added up my hours, paid less than minimum wage. A few months ago I began editing manuscripts for  a publisher who paid $75 per. Each manuscript took 15 to 20 hours. After I did four of them I calculated my earnings: $3.75-5.00 an hour. When I asked for more I was flatly refused, and the publisher stopped sending me work. Was I better off with $75 or with nothing? I imagine other writers ask this question, and sometimes answer by continuing to work for less than minimum wage.

Speaking of other writers, I am not alone. I’m not the only one who can’t make a living at this anymore. While it was hard ten or fifteen years ago, many of us managed to eke out an impoverished existence. We can no longer do even that. My base of colleagues has expanded, since all workers are suffering these days, from those in the fast food industry to retail establishments, corporations, non-profits, upscale restaurants, hotels—name an industry and the people who work in it are working 40 or more hours a week, have two or three jobs, and yet have to sleep in their cars; WallSt.Protests they jump through hoops for food stamps; go hungry so their children can eat; and let us not forget mothers, who get paid for none of their work (another whole topic). We’ve heard the stories and we know the causes. We’ve demanded change in a million ways. Will it ever come? Will people ever make a living by honest labor again? I don’t know.

Happy Labor Day to all my writing compadres and other workers! Enjoy taking the day off—if you can.

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