Published Columns

Publishers Weekly article

As the editorial director of a book publishing company, I occasionally need to hire copy editors and proofreaders. In fact, I am looking for such a person now. The good news is that the ads I recently placed brought in a pile of résumés. The bad news is . . . the résumés.

There’s the one with six typos by a man who claims “finding errors” is his forte; the one from a woman whose Job Objective line reads: “To secure proofreading position a major corporation” and the one from an apparently multi-talented job candidate that starts out: “To: Editorial Director. Re: Dental Assistant position.” This candidate goes on to tout his impeccable English skills and attention to detail. As a proofreader, he’s probably an excellent dental assistant.

Then there’s the guy who failed miserably on the in-house spelling test. This would-be proofreader explained with a conspiratorial whisper, “Well, spelling isn’t my strong suit.”

Unfortunately, this current search is typical of what I’ve experienced over the past ten years of hiring entry-level editorial staff. The majority—yes, I’d say 90 percent—of the applications I receive have spelling and syntax errors. What’s going on here? Why are we attracting so many applicants who don’t have the skills, never mind the passion, to do the job?

I remember one woman recently who did well on our preliminary at-home editing test and managed to arrive on time for the interview, but when asked why she wanted the job, replied, “Because it’s there.” She may speak for a lot of young people who are applying for publishing jobs as an afterthought, as if these positions are something that they surely would be able to ace. After all, they can read and write.

Not only do these candidates lack editorial skills—they seem to approach the interview process with a lack of respect. When one woman in her early 20s showed up for the first interview wearing jeans and carrying a backpack, I wondered if she might have dressed to impress a bit more if she were applying, say, to work in financial services. And then there was the man who, when asked what tends to annoy him in job situations, thoughtfully replied, “I hate people who are cheery first thing in the morning.”

The applicant who stands out most in my mind has to be the woman who was greeted by our vice president’s resident dog. As this candidate was walking into my office—which is littered with cat calendars, cat mugs, photos of me with my cats, and a very real-looking black-and-white stuffed cat that was sitting on the floor right in front of her—she exclaimed, “Oh, I’m glad that you have a dog in the office and not a cat. I hate cats.”

It wasn’t always this way. I remember back when I applied for (and secured) one of my first jobs in the industry more than 20 years ago. The company had a flyer in the reception area saying something to the effect of: “Publishing is a prestige profession that doesn’t pay well, so if you’re in this for financial gain rather than the love of books, perhaps this arena isn’t for you.”

I remember being so proud that yes, indeed, I was in it for the right reasons, and knew I had the skills to back up my interest. As all of us who are in the field know, being a proficient editor takes training and talent. And publishing houses aren’t the place to earn rent money while looking for the job you really want. Maybe it’s time we reclaimed our pride in the book business as a “prestige profession” worthy (despite the paltry salaries) of the brightest young people.

As for me, I’m determined not to lower my standards—no matter how long my search for a qualified employee takes. I thought I was close to hiring someone recently, until she sent in a “Thank you for the interview” note that declared: “I want to emphasize my enthusiasm for the proofreading position at ___________.” And then she inserted the name of our company. But she spelled it wrong.

Jill Kramer was the editorial director at Hay House (not Hays House!) in Carlsbad, California.

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[Published in AMERICAN ENTERPRISE magazine]

Just a Simple Mugging . . .

Jill Kramer

In the past, when I would read a little blurb in the newspaper telling of some little old lady being mugged, I would simply think, Oh, that’s a shame . . . and then I’d move on.

However, I no longer do that, as I’ve learned all too intimately that a crime of this sort is much more than . . . a shame. It’s a life-altering horror that can affect the victim forever . . . as any “minor” or major crime can.

In October, my petite 78-year-old mother, who customarily walked between three and seven miles a day (never carrying a purse—just keeping her keys and I.D. in a pocket), had left her car at a gas station in a suburban area of Sacramento to be repaired. Since she was told that her vehicle would take a few hours to fix, she decided to walk the relatively short (for her) mile to my sister’s home, located on a quiet street nearby. With her handbag over her shoulder (she didn’t want to leave her purse in her trunk), my mother walked down a major artery and then made her way back to the residential area.

As she was walking down the tree-lined street just a block away from my sister’s home, a man pulled up in a car, jumped out onto the sidewalk, and grabbed my mother’s purse. (We assume that he had targeted her when she was on the main drag.) The six-foot-plus assailant also felt it necessary to violently push my small-framed mother facedown onto the asphalt road. She was instantly  incapacitated, having (unbeknownst to her at the time) broken one arm in several places, dislocated the other shoulder, broken a finger, and bloodied her face. It was sheer chance that she didn’t also break her hip, which, I subsequently was informed, often happens when crimes of this type are perpetrated on senior citizens.

Amazingly, on this weekday morning when most people were at work, someone rushed out of a nearby house and called the police and an ambulance (which, to her astonishment, my mother later got a bill for).

I was at work at my office in the San Diego area when I got the call from my brother-in-law that my mother had been mugged and was in the hospital, awaiting surgery. I instantly thought I would faint, vomit, dissolve into a pile of dust all at the same time. This doesn’t happen to people you know! My second thought was, No matter how injured my mother is, she’s going to be most concerned about her checkbook, credit cards, other personal items, et cetera. I was right. It was the first thing, I later learned, that she inquired about.

The next few days were a blur. I joined my family at her bedside, tried not to cry continually—and cursed the perpetrator—who has never been apprehended, but who, it was suspected, was responsible for similar crimes in the area. In the few hours before my mother’s bank was able to cancel her ATM cards, credit cards, and checking account, the criminal charged several hundred dollars and put a lot of gas in his car (and maybe his friends’ as well). And in those few short hours, my mother’s life changed forever.

After her surgery, she was unable to use either arm and was in constant pain. She couldn’t eat by herself, dress herself, or do anything else, really. After she was released from the hospital, she was put in a nursing facility for three weeks, where this very independent woman was now being treated like an infant. She was mortified.

On top of the physical limitations, the logistics involved in getting a new checking account, rerouting her automatic deposits and withdrawals, and dealing with all the other financial matters were immense. Just as an example, it took three whole days just to get through the busy signal to the Social Security office—and my mom wasn’t even able to hold the phone herself.

After returning home, my mother had to have in-home physical and occupational therapy, and was forced to relearn how to do simple things such as boiling a cup of water—a difficult task when you can’t lift either arm. Even something as simple as cleaning out the lint filter in the dryer had to be done by someone else. In the midst of this turmoil, my mother announced that her driving days were over and gave her car to my sister. We all realized that the fear and anger that she wasn’t outwardly expressing were boiling inside her, as it was in all of us.

My mom was told that she would never have full range of motion in her arms again, and that a massive tear in the rotator cuff in one of her arms would have to go unoperated on, due to her age. My strong, independent mother was now an invalid of sorts, confined to her home. (Did you know that when you’re getting in-home therapy, Medicare only lets you leave your home to go to church, the beauty salon, and the doctor—ridiculous!) And this was all due to the act of a miscreant who wanted to fill up his tank without paying for it.

I know that my mother’s story isn’t unique. The pain endured by victims of all crimes persists for years, sometimes for the rest of their lives. (In fact, I was surprised by how many similar stories I heard when I related the details of this event to others.) But when it happens to you, it just seems like the worst thing ever.

If there’s one thing that I hope to accomplish by writing this down it’s this: If you have a relative or neighbor who’s gone through something like this, please help out. Offer to go to the supermarket and the post office and the drugstore. Take out their garbage, clean out the cat’s litter box, pick up the mail, make meals, provide a sounding board . . . and most of all, show compassion. Because, God forbid, it could happen to someone in your life, and when it does, your entire world will be turned upside down.

Today, my mother’s life is not much different from someone who’s under house arrest. She no longer wants to take walks, is dependent on others to care for her, is apprehensive about carrying a purse anywhere, no longer crochets (which she used to do endlessly), and has lost much of the strength and confidence that she always possessed. Thank goodness, she still loves to watch TV with her cat on her lap.

But now, when I read about a purse-snatching or a mugging or a “minor assault” that was committed, I don’t just skim past it, thinking, Oh, no big deal. I shake my head with shared empathy, knowing that there’s no such thing as a “minor” crime. Each one is a major assault on the lives of everyone involved.

The irony of this situation is that my mother had been so horrified over the violent, unprovoked attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, that she couldn’t even talk about it—very unusual for her, a media junkie who could often be found watching TV news, listening to a radio talk show, and reading a magazine all at the same time. Yet here she was, the victim of her own violent, unprovoked attack. And she didn’t want to talk about that either.

……………………………………………………..

[published in The Coast News]

Just Between You and . . .

by Jill Kramer

As the editorial director of a book publishing company in Carlsbad, I periodically interview prospective copy editors and proofreaders . . . and find it continually frustrating that the majority of applicants (mostly graduates of local Southern California colleges, and usually possessing English degrees) can’t spell, write, put together a cover letter, or converse intelligently when applying for a position.

Even in my own field, editors (not on my staff, of course), agents, authors, salespeople, and others seem to be spelling challenged. In fact, the word that is misspelled more than any other in book publishing is foreword, as in the foreword to a book (think of it as the word that comes before). More often than not, it’s spelled forward, foreward, and forword. . . . as far as I’m concerned, the etymological equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard.

But lately I’ve found that the workplace isn’t the only arena where our linguistic shortcomings are so prevalent. I find it increasingly difficult to watch TV due to the multitude of mistakes I see and hear related to the written and spoken word. Any viewer who has watched CNN or any of the other cable news shows has been privy to the numerous errors on the crawl at the bottom of the screen: Defendent in murder trail pleads guilty . . . Power couple seperating . . . Noble Peace Prize awarded . . . and if you can’t figure out what’s wrong with these phrases, then my point is well made.

And don’t get me started on reality shows. The cringeworthy dialogue is often peppered with the incorrect use of personal pronouns on a regular basis–virtually an American epidemic! For example, you’ll hear: “John doesn’t think he wants to go to the club with Susan and I.” “Just between you and I, I think she’s a raving lunatic!” “Me and Harry are going to Italy next week.”

Still don’t see anything wrong? I rest my case. . . .

Back when I was in grade school in a Pennsylvania suburb many moons ago, I vividly remember my sixth-grade teacher drilling the parts of speech into our impressionable little brains. We were expected to know what a being verb was, when to use who and whom, and why you don’t use I at the end of a sentence after a preposition . . . that’s right, it’s NOT  . . . with Susan and I . . . it’s . . . with Susan and me! 

But is any of this type of dedicated and intensive instruction still going on in English classes here in San Diego or in other places throughout the U.S.? If it is, no one seems to be listening, studying, or doing their homework! There are spelling and grammar mistakes on street signs, billboards, TV commercials, book covers, CD albums, restaurant menus, and all manner of Websites. And if you’re wondering why people don’t just use the spell-check feature . . . well, that device only finds fault with words that aren’t really words. So if you use their instead of there, you’re sunk. And I don’t mean sank.

The solution to this national tragedy is the following, which, I believe, we should start implementing in our local Southern California schools immediately: Make the use of proper English a requirement for every student in every class that kids and young adults take from the time they’re in grade school through graduation from college. Math, history, science, art . . . whatever . . . when they write or speak, they must do so by using correct grammar. If students knew that their grades were not just dependent on the tests they took in the particular subject but were also based on communicating properly on an overall basis, then proper English would become the norm, not the exception.

Now, at this point you might wonder if I, the word nerd who would rather spend a Saturday reading at the Cardiff Library than sunbathing on Moonlight Beach, am also that annoying person who corrects her friends’ grammar in casual conversation.

Well, just between you and me . . . I would never be so forward!

……………………………………………………..

BUT WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY DO…? 

Interview by Jill Kramer

Have you ever wondered what day-to-day life is like for your neighbors in San Diego County? You might think that you know what they do and how they do it . . . but then again, you might be surprised . . .

***

Meet your fellow San Diegan . . . Kathy Galan.

Kathy with Little Man, one of her beloved “clients.”

Kathy, 54, a native of Palm Springs, is the owner of Kathy’s Kats & Kanine Kare (KathysKatsandKanineKare.com), servicing the Carlsbad and Encinitas areas. Kathy is the proud mother of a pit bull named Meadow and lives with her husband in La Costa.

Kathy, how long have you been pet sitting, and how do you find clients?

I’ve been doing this for seven years. Most of my clients come from referrals, but the sign on my car works well, too!

What tasks do you usually perform?

Feeding and changing water; yard and litter box clean-up; combing and brushing; giving medications; picking up mail/newspaper/deliveries; and most important, making sure the pet is given lots of attention and is well cared for.

Do you like your job? Why?

I really love my job because of the love I get from, and give to, my “babies.” It’s a wonderful feeling.

What kind of training did you receive?

I graduated from Pet Sitting University, which is a weekend-long class. I’m also bonded, which is an absolute must for this job.

What do you charge per hour?

I charge $20 per visit for cats and $25 for dogs. I charge more for dogs because they need to be walked.

What is the average length of time your clients are away?  

Most of my time is spent watching animals for people who are at work, but I do have many clients who only need me to come to their homes when they go away. The average time is seven days.

Has anyone not returned? What did you do?

Fortunately, I have never had a client not return. Some have gotten delayed, but they have all come home safely.

Anything that frustrates you about your work?

That would be when the owner is less than candid with me during the initial consultation with respect to the pet’s behavior. There are some pets I won’t see again because they’re too aggressive.

Have you ever been scratched or bitten?

Yes, I’ve been scratched—mostly by diabetic cats who require shots, but I’ve never been bitten by a dog.

How many hours a day do you work?  

I work up to ten hours a day, sometimes visiting a pet up to three times daily, but a typical day is seven to eight hours.

You must do a lot of driving.

I drive 50 miles a day or more in my VW bug convertible, and spend about $50 a week on gas. The expenses related to my work are tax deductible.

Do you ever sleep over with a pet?

Only for special, very specific, situations.

What is the most challenging situation you’ve ever been in with respect to your job? 

A client was not honest about his dog’s health, and the poor thing died in my arms on the way to the vet. The vet was very surprised that the client left the dog in its condition.

Any particularly interesting pets?

Yes, I sit for a cat who brings me a Beanie Baby from upstairs every time I visit and then wants me to bring the toy back upstairs. And there are several dogs who sense that I’m coming when I’m within a mile of their home, and they start going crazy until they see me. It’s really amazing.

Anything else you’d like readers to know about you?

The reason I do this job is because of the love I have for animals. I treat all of them as if they are my own children.

One final question: who takes care of your dog when you are away?

A pet sitter named Patty Yocum at Canine Nanny Services. She is awesome!

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