The economy of feedback

Is it somehow fitting that “writing” is only worth 11 points in Scrabble?

I’m kicking the tires–or maybe the table legs of my desk is a more apt metaphor–on another book. It’s a baseball project, and I am sending out queries to agents. Soon thereafter, I receive rejections akin to “Dear John” break-up letters, and some offer astonishing clarity: “it has been determined that Mr. X will not be pursuing representation of your manuscript.”

And that’s fine. I’m happy to know where I stand. In one case, though, an agent noted, “I’m sorry to say … that I just wasn’t as completely drawn in by the material as much as I had hoped,” which I took to mean two things: nice job on the pitch, but the first 10 pages of your manuscript need sharpening.

Shortly thereafter, I saw those pages with fresh eyes, edited accordingly, and I’m excited about the next round of queries. This agent is, I figure, just as busy as most agents, but found enough time for an extra 28 syllables. We’re all busy, and it’s easy to forget how two extra minutes for a co-worker (or potential client) can make a huge difference–especially if you’re willing to offer feedback that’s constructive and critical.

I hope that a few more signposts of narrative direction, along with an edit focused on vigor, will generate additional interest from potential agents. If so, then think about the second agent’s two minutes may help me find representation more quickly and, in turn, spare her fellow agents (and me) hours in subsequent pitches and rejections.

I’m going to keep this thought in mind the next time I’m between tasks and tempted to alt-TAB over to Facebook or the NY Times. Your thoughts?

Thinking into action–or vice versa

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’ ” Isaac Asimov

I found this delicious epigram in a book on entrepreneurship, but I’m thinking of it more as an adage for fostering self-awareness. We’re humans (so we’re already amazing), but we’re flawed, too, and sometimes we engage in behaviors that range from inconsiderate to awe-inspiringly reckless. Instead of inducing waves of guilt, though, what if we proceeded methodically and noted, “Hmm … that’s peculiar. Why did I do that?”

Rodin, under sunny San Francisco skies.

Might such a cognitive move foster greater possibilities for change and self-care, and allow more growth? What might growth-paradigm expert Carol Dweck say?

Alcoholic Anonymous tacks an alternate course, driving AA members to embrace ritual in order to change habits. Great review of a great book here gets after this approach.

The ear of an editor

Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges: a man of good cadence.

Smart piece here on copy editors and cultural difference. Does Jorge Luis Borges’s writing read so well in English and Spanish because of his interest in music? In all editing tasks, I trust my ear more than my eye.

Also: I’m surprised the Chronicle editors let the author introduce Borges as “Borges,” rather than “Jorge Luis Borges.” He’s a giant, but not quite on the scale of Marx, Freud, or Evita.

Sharing My Work–v. 3: Choolah

Austin Kleon, and his hair

Happy Friday!

As I noted in an earlier post, I’m a fan of Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work (and his fabulous hair), so I’ll do a bit of that here, now and again.

Choolah: it’s fast Indian casual, and super tasty. I love the concept and the food, as well as their space on the far east side of Cleveland. (They’re in VA and PA, too.) Nice work, team!

These folks know what’s what, so I was surprised to find an opportunity to wordsmith their copy.


I love the angle here, and my take is to maintain the punchy cadence all the way through.

“Serve guests healthy, hearty food. Deliver yum, not yawn.
You can pick it up.
We can bring it to you.

“Relax. We’re on it, and we care.

“Easy peasy.”

The healthy-but-hearty angle offers some distinction, but McDonald’s (and others) can claim they deliver what their guests really want. (Seriously: their fries are a scientific and culinary wonder.)

“Relax” stands on its own as a sentence without being didactic. And the rest of it works, even with the shift in point of view from the first to the second paragraph. (You could argue that “serve” should be serving, but since it’s about catering, it’s potentially the client who’s serving up the food.)

Good food. Good copy. Enjoy!