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Well, there is clearly no faster way to kill regular posting than to announce a new blog series. Nevertheless, here’s a few recent titles.

A Triple Knot by Emma Campion (Goodreads): This story woven around the real medieval woman Joan of Kent looked really thrilling, but I couldn’t get into it, even though I normally like historical fiction. I tried several times to read the first chapter but it just didn’t hold my attention. (NB: I received an ARC to review.)

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (Goodreads): A stunning blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and romance. Li Lan’s family has fallen on hard times and her father suggests a ghost marriage to the recently deceased eldest son of the Lim family. I loved the way the story unfolds through 19th-century Malaysia, both in the physical world and the afterlife. The book ends with a decision but I wanted to keep reading more of Li Lan’s story.

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts, the first of the Cousins O’Dwyer trilogy (Goodreads): Iona Sheehan comes to her cousins in Ireland and finds that they share not only blood, but an ancient spiritual gift and an ancient enemy. Roberts blends in some elements of modern Wicca (the rhyming Silver Ravenwolf-type spells were incongruous and a bit silly), but the story of Iona finding bonds of family, friendship, and love kept me turning pages. I’m now reading Shadow Spell (Goodreads), the second book in the trilogy; the third book, Blood Magick, comes out in December.

What I’m reading now: A series

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I’ve taken an idea from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), which is itself an amazing book full of good stories and equally good advice; I quote pieces to myself rather a lot. The part I’m thinking of now is what King calls the Prime Rule and the Great Commandment:

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others; read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around those two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It’s what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don’t read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. (p. 145)

I read and read and read all day, and then in between I read for fun, but there’s a difference. When I read with an editorial eye, I’m looking at how sentences work and whether words got repeated or misspelled or misused. I’m reading functional text and thinking about how well a teacher will be able to follow this lesson, whether all the facts in a story about a celebrity are correct, whether references to a figure or a handout title are capitalized consistently, how well a reader will be able visualize the action happening in a scene. It’s also repetitive work; I read through, make changes, read through again, go back and fix this or that, read through again to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and so on. I’m practicing my craft.

When I read for fun, I’m a very fast reader. Especially in novels, I love to get completely swept up in the story. Before my kids were born, I’d curl up on our big leather couch and read for hours at a stretch, not really realizing how much time had passed until the sun had gone down, my cup was long empty, and I was mysteriously hungry. (That still happens occasionally now, except the hours involved usually bookend midnight, after both girls are asleep.) It’s a lovely break to just fly through and not worry about the detail stuff because many other people have already worked on this particular story and the details have been attended to. It’s just me and the story.

And yet, as Stephen King continues, “there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.” Which I’ve found to be true as well. King tells about reading a book in which the author described everything as zestful and it became “the literary equivalent of a smallpox vaccination: I have never, so far as I know, used the word zestful in a novel or a story. God willing, I never will.”

A few weeks ago, I decided that the balance between work and play had gotten out of whack, so I settled myself down to read some novels. (Actually, I can pinpoint this to the day I edited a review of Lick by Kylie Scott. I finished editing the article, kept a tab open to buy the book, and read it straight through as soon as I could. Then I bought the next in the series. And I signed up for Smart Bitches Trashy Books’ Books on Sale newsletter and bought plenty more by other authors. I’m kinda backlogged with romance reading and it’s wonderful.)

So here’s to a new series of posts with short reviews of what I’m reading now. It’s probably gonna be romance-heavy for awhile.

Timelines and expectations: Maternity leave analysis

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I’ve been super busy with projects lately, which is a wonderful thing! And I’ve been looking at this project cycle in relation to my decision to take maternity leave as a freelancer; effectively, I had to start hustling for work just as hard as when I’d started freelancing in the first place. (Note: the bulk of my work has been in educational publishing, so the cycle I’m outlining reflects project lengths and payment periods common to that field. An editor working primarily on medical journals would likely experience a different cycle; an editor working primarily with independent authors would experience a cycle that’s different still.)

  • June/July 2013: I decide on the dates I’ll be away on maternity leave and notify my clients well in advance.
  • August 2013: I AM SO BUSY finishing up projects and squeezing in short ones before my leave starts.
  • September 2013: My daughter is born, with no complications. I recover quickly. Invoice payments continue to roll in.
  • October 2013: Rosaline turns out to be a happy, healthy baby. Invoices keep getting paid. I’m a tad bored, but life is good.
  • November 2013: I start working again, slowly, touching base with current clients and reaching out to new ones.
  • December 2013: The Holidays. A few new projects start up. Just about all outstanding invoices are paid by now.
  • January 2014: This is, unexpectedly, the point at which I started to feel the financial pinch from maternity leave. Not much money was coming in, few of the projects I’d started in November had reached a point at which I could invoice for work done, and savings were starting to run out.
  • February 2014: Busy, busy month. I added more projects, sent a few invoices, and kept hustling. I win a couple of regular gigs.
  • March 2014: Several large projects reach a midpoint at the same time others wrap up. I feel like I’m working nonstop. More invoices go out; more projects come in.

When I was figuring out how maternity leave would work, I expected that November and December would be the tough months, but starting in January, I’d be able to pick up steam again. Instead, the cycle looks much more like August–December 2012, when I was wrapping up a full-time job and transitioning into Last Syllable full-time. I picked up a few clients right away, put in the work on the first projects, invoiced when they were done… and then finally had those invoices paid in January 2013. After that point, invoices got paid at about the same pace as new projects came in and work went out, so the business was sustainable.

Judging by that information, April 2014 will be another tough month, but May 2014 should be better, and sustainability should come back around June or July — almost a full year!

So financially, I’m not sure how good an idea it was to take two months of maternity leave. However, I recovered very quickly from birthing and had no complications. Other than a bit of jaundice, my baby was born perfectly healthy; she took right to nursing and has thrived. If any part of that calculus had been different — if I’d had a difficult birthing, had to recover from a C-section, or had lasting issues from the pregnancy; if Rosaline had been sick or colicky or had trouble nursing or gaining weight; if none of us had slept well and I couldn’t think clearly; just to name a few possibilities — then a two-month maternity leave would have looked like a far wiser choice. Of course, I couldn’t predict any of these outcomes ahead of the birth, let alone far enough ahead of time to change my plans. And there were other benefits to the way I did it: no juggling deadlines and diapers until I had a pretty good handle on baby’s routine, for example. I didn’t have to stress about being sure I could keep a project on schedule, sure I could think straight, even if I was physically and mentally up to the challenge.

Is it possible to take maternity leave as a freelancer? Yes. Would I do it again? … I’d think very hard about that, given what I’ve learned, and I’d probably approach it as more of a temporary slowdown than a complete break.

Reorganization, slightly

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A housekeeping note: The sidebar was getting a little ridiculous, so I’ve removed and rearranged some of those widgets. Notably, editing- and writing-related links, site search, and links to a few of the top posts and pages on the site are all in the footer. I’ve also deleted the Work History page and folded that information into the Editorial Services page.

I’d been taught all my life to organize my résumé in some kind of chronological order, listing my skills and emphasizing a continuous, focused work history. (Freelance résumés can be structured a little differently. For examples, see the EFA’s excellent booklet Résumés for Freelancers by Sheila Buff, and of course my own résumé.) So when I started writing the pages of this site, even though I wrote a page that focused on my services and projects I’ve edited and proofread in the past and posted a downloadable PDF résumé, I still felt the need to write some kind of chronological story about my work history.

However, my site stats told me that visitors didn’t really look at the Work History page. The majority of site visitors land on my post Don’t get suckered: National Association of Professional Women. When those visitors want to know more, they usually click over to Editorial Services.

So I shortened the story and tucked it into a page where it would more usefully convey information. I’ve been freelancing full-time for a year now, but some changes are still taking time to sink in.

Not a morning person

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6:45. 6:45. 6:45.

I used to chant the time to myself as I fell asleep at night. In middle school and high school, that was the time I needed to get out of bed in order to get showered and everything before the bus stopped at the end of our driveway. Usually, I hadn’t had any breakfast, or maybe in my hands I had waffles with peanut butter on them like a sandwich — milk turned my anxious stomach that early in the morning, so no cereal, and no time to stop and eat it anyway — and I’d be flying out the door, running down the driveway, praying the bus driver would see me and stop. My mom and I used to have such fights about this. She’d always try to get me to bed earlier the night before and I’d be like “I’m years old, Mom! I don’t need a bedtime!” Or she’d try to get me up earlier, which I would protest more quietly but no less vehemently; I’d timed each and every part of my morning routine, knew how many minutes each part usually took and what I could skip or hurry along or do on the 45-minute bus ride once I made it there. So I knew exactly how many minutes past 6:45 I could stay in bed. (More or less.) Mom would be shouting at me the whole time, trying to get me up or telling me what else I should do to get up earlier, and I’d be shouting back because I was tired and stressed and also a teenager and didn’t understand or couldn’t express what I was really feeling, deep down, so I was mad at the clock. And Mom.

In college, I avoided scheduling classes before 10 a.m. I had some early-morning science classes in my first semester, I think, and an 8 a.m. speech class once when I couldn’t take any other sections. (Performance days were the worst in that class. It was 6:45 all over again.) I knew exactly how many minutes it took me to walk to each class from wherever I was on campus. Sometimes, I still rolled out of bed and barely made it to class on time for the 10 a.m. ones, and sometimes I slept late and missed them completely. I skipped classes for plenty of other reasons, as is traditional, but for the morning ones I had usually just overslept.

After graduating, I only ever had one job that required me to be there at 8:00 a.m. exactly, and it … didn’t work out well. 6:45. 6:45. 6:45. I had a stash of oatmeal to eat at my desk, I lived almost within sight of the office, I had an hour for lunch so I could go home and make something instead of having to have it prepared and brought with me, and I still showed up late too often. (And I had to dress nice, too, so I couldn’t skip much of my morning routine.)

Years passed, I was pregnant with my first, and I had been working second shift at a different job for more than six months before I finally started to make peace with mornings. Before I started to work with my schedule instead of fighting against it. Before those shouting matches with Mom didn’t ring in my ears when the alarm clock went off. Before I even stopped bothering to set an alarm. I actually have some fond memories of the mornings when my daughter was only a few months old. I’d put her in the swing and start washing dishes, and she’d fall asleep from the sound of the water and the motion of the swing. I’d have half an hour of peace on a spring morning while I cleaned the kitchen and had my coffee and cooked eggs or made a clafouti or whatever I was inspired to do.

I’m so grateful to have kept that peace with mornings. It’s one of my favorite parts of the work I do now. Depending on my schedule (and what kind of chaos reigns when the girls wake up), I can take the time to make pancakes on a Wednesday. Or put on a pot of coffee, drag my bleary self to my desk, wake up and plan my day or week as I read e-mail, and then open some files and get to work. No bundling up to shovel snow or scrape off a car. No scrambling to get self and children clean, dressed, fed, and out the door before my body is even ready to be out of bed.

Avoiding those little daily miseries won’t last through my daughters’ school years, I’m sure. They’re 3 and 5 months now, so I see my share of sunrises. But the part of me that’s still a stressed-out, angry teenager feels like I’ve won some kind of victory.

Mercurial silliness on a Sunday

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I have discovered, a site that provides a valuable public service!

Mercury retrograde is an astronomical event that occurs three times a year and lasts for three weeks each time. (All the planets have retrograde periods, actually. The Wikipedia page at that link includes an animation showing Mars retrograde.) The planet Mercury appears to stand still, then move backward, then stand still again before moving forward in its usual orbit. In astrology, Mercury rules communication, awareness, thinking, the expression of thoughts, and the tools we use to accomplish all those things. How exactly that manifests depends on the sign Mercury is in; during retrograde periods, something from the past could be dredged up or communications will go wonky, for example. You might lose e-mails, gloss over or misunderstand an important piece of a contract, feel like you’re talking past people, get stuck working through some issue you thought was settled, or be plagued by computer problems. The usual advice for surviving Mercury retrograde is to avoid signing contracts, starting new projects, installing new software, or any of the other tasks affected by Mercury.

I care because Mercury could rule my entire business, practically. I can’t stop everything for three weeks. And if you go down that Top 10 list, I believe I have done every single one of those things since Mercury went retrograde on February 6! Making agreements, signing contracts, starting new jobs/projects? Check. Scheduling meetings? Check (I’m actually supposed to be in one now, but there appears to be some kind of miscommunication about it!) New software? Check. I bought the full version of MathType and had an awful time trying to get it to work on a different computer and version of Word. Auto repairs? Check, lolsob. We had to pay for jump starts and unexpectedly replace our truck’s battery. I even bought something that I regretted: a shirt whose design turned out to be mostly made of sequins, which I didn’t realize when I bought it. And, naturally, when I washed the shirt a few of the sequins and ruined the design anyway.

So instead I try to appreciate the benefits of Mercury retrograde (which may come naturally to me, as an Aquarius with Mercury in Libra). I had a couple of old clients contact me to start new projects when I hadn’t expected to hear from them again. I’m a terrible procrastinator when it comes to cold-calling (or its e-mail version, which doesn’t have a snappy name), but something about Mercury retrograde tends to light a fire under me, and I find the inspiration to send a lot of those e-mails plus a few that weren’t on the to-do list yet. I get all kinds of ideas for new projects and new ways to organize information — and half the time, something gets screwed up and out of the chaos comes an even better way than I had planned.

Which is why, when I looked at my screwed-up e-mails and the 31 tabs I have open in Chrome and this installation that isn’t working right, and I couldn’t even find the bill from the towing guy and this, that, and the other thing were completely going sideways… I searched “is mercury in retrograde” and the answer was YES.

(Mercury goes direct again on February 28. The other retrograde periods for 2014 are June 7 to July 2 and October 4 to October 25.)

Updates to my post on NAPW

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I just posted the following as an update to my post Don’t get suckered: National Association of Professional Women:

There have been so many more comments on this post than I ever expected (almost 200 as of this morning)! If you did purchase a membership at any level in the National Association of Professional Women, I can’t offer specific advice beyond what I’d recommend for any other purchase: contact NAPW for a refund and to cancel your membership. Contact your bank or credit card company and ask to stop the charge if it hasn’t gone through yet, or if it has, ask the customer service rep what your options are. Several readers have mentioned automatic renewals without clear notice — commenter Kim Hales said in December 2013 that text authorizing the renewals is hidden in new/updated terms and conditions that NAPW members must accept in order to login to the members-only area of the website, where you’d need to uncheck a renewal option — so if you’re already on the phone with your bank or credit card issuer, ask if you can prevent that specific renewal charge. NAPW may also have a policy disallowing cancellation within 30 days of the membership’s renewal date.

Many readers have mentioned the misleading ads NAPW has placed on LinkedIn. Yesterday, commenter Karin posted the text of the support ticket she submitted to LinkedIn and the reply she received, in which an Ads Support Specialist promised to “investigate the advertiser in question.” LinkedIn’s advertising guidelines prohibit deception or lying. Since NAPW does have a free membership level, I don’t think advertising a free membership is lying per se, but I do think this tactic is deceptive. If you’re on LinkedIn, you can submit a support ticket here.

Other readers have mentioned NAPW’s Better Business Bureau rating, which seems to have tanked over time. Commenter Glenda said in August 2013 that the LinkedIn ads touted NAPW’s A rating but that, according to the BBB, NAPW was not an accredited business. As of October 2013, NAPW still had a high rating, but commenter Lil W. said in December 2013 that NAPW had an F rating then. Last week, commenter Gabby said that NAPW’s Wikipedia page had a “Controversy” section that mentioned a C rating from the BBB. Here’s the text of that Controversy section as it appears today:

As of January 2014, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported 256 customer complaints against NAPW since 2011. Based on these complaints, the Bureau issued the company a C rating (on a scale of A+ to F) for its “failure to resolve underlying cause(s) of a pattern of complaints”, among other factors cited in their review of the company.[10] Dozens of consumer complaints were also filed against NAPW with other complaint bureaus, reporting fraudulent practices. In response to BBB’s inquiry regarding what measures the company was taking to resolve “underlying issues”, NAPW reported that the “trend” of complaints reported to BBB was heavily due to online “negative PR” rather than customer experience.[11]

My post here tends to rank highly in Google searches for the National Association of Professional Women, with or without the word “scam” included. NAPW has not contacted me about my experience (or for any other reason). I don’t think I or my blog really register with them.

The BBB gives NAPW a D rating today, for reasons that match my experience and those of almost all the commenters below: “Many consumers tell BBB that they are misled regarding membership prices, membership levels, and additional fees for processing and set-up. For example, consumers reported seeing an ad for free membership for NAPW on LinkedIn. However, these consumers claim that when they contact NAPW to take advantage of that offer, they find out that joining is not free. Some consumers also allege that they were subjected to high pressure sales tactics by company representatives to join the organization even before they understood the costs or benefits. Other consumers that originally agreed to join the organization but opted afterward to cancel the membership say that they have difficulty reaching any company representatives to seek a refund.”

I’ll continue to update this post with more news as it develops.