Captain, my Captain!

I’ve looked through the archives, and while you’ve answered similar-ish questions, this one hasn’t come up before, so I’m hoping you can help! I (she/her) work as a freelance editor and am in a fairly privileged position––I have enough clients that I can afford to be somewhat choosy; I’m white and cisgender, so while I certainly object to racist content, it doesn’t actually trigger me when I come across it in the works I’m editing.

However, I’ve been running into more and more works with racist content from new clients, whether stereotyped characters, cultural appropriation, or micro-aggressions in their prose (and I’m *sure* I’m missing problems content-wise). Often times, it’s content that’s hard for me to screen for before taking the job–there’s no easy search for racism in a manuscript, unfortunately–and furthermore, I also know with my relative privilege, I’m better-placed to give feedback that these authors may at least listen to.

What I’m struggling with is these sorts of clients are taking up more and more of my time and mental energy and space. I know I need to find a better way of “screening” clients and balancing the ones who slip through the cracks with the ones I actually enjoy working with, but in the meantime, do you have any script suggestions for telling people that their writing is terribly racist? Alternatively, any scripts for “breaking up” with clients whose works are too terrible for me to work with them in good conscious? (All my contracts have break-up clauses, so that’s not a concern––it’s the giving the criticism part I need help with!)

I don’t want to condone these authors’ works, but I don’t want to be mired down in fixing unfixable content either (especially if the author isn’t inclined to listen regardless!). Since it’s a client-freelancer relationship, I feel the boundaries are different–we can work with each other at will and there’s no HR to report to–so I’m at a loss. Any help would be much appreciated!

– No, Your Book isn’t Misunderstood; It’s Racist

Hi there Not Misunderstood:

DIRECTNESS IS KINDNESS.

Here is my suggestion which I think will cover both “Honest Feedback For Clients” and “Fix This Right Now Or We Have To Break Up” bases. I am writing a blanket script that can be adapted, please use what is useful to you however this works best with your existing process for contracting for edits, ok?

FYI, here are my goals for the proposed script:

  • Directness is kindness. These people NEED to hear this feedback from someone, today you’re the “someone.” They hired you to help them make their book the best it can be, it can’t be the best it can be until this gets fixed, sugarcoating it or avoiding it is unhelpful.
  • Be specific about the nature and scope of the problem to the extent you can. You don’t have to include every detail, find a few particularly telling ones.
  • Make it clear that you cannot work on the project until/unless substantive changes are made. “Can’t you just clean up the text like I hired you to do?” Nope!
  • Strongly disinvite the person from arguing with you about the nature of the feedback – They can fix it or don’t, you’re not touching this again until they do.
  • Direct them somewhere that might actually solve the problem.
  • For now, grant them the fig leaf of “I’m sure this is unintentional, and confidentially between you & an editor is the right time to fix these problems!” which hopefully they will take as the giant gift that it is. For the record, I do not think most or all of the people who write and say racist stuff are doing it unintentionally, but when you are trying to persuade someone to do better, it might help them rise to the occasion if you don’t immediately shame or punish them. If they double-down, argue, counter with abuse of you or try to invoke that One Black Friend Every Racist Definitely Has But Never Actually Listens To, strip that white fragility fig leaf right off and add them to your “Nope, Never Again” list.

And here’s the recommended script, which I imagine delivering as soon as you’ve completed your initial read-through. Write your prospective/new client an email that spells out your feedback about the content, including the problematic content, and the next steps for editing the book, like so:

“Dear [Author],

I’ve completed my initial read of [Your Book] and I want to share my initial feedback and outline next steps for the editing process if we’re going to continue working together.

While some elements of the draft are very strong [mention one or two], I’ve identified some content that needs serious revision before I can commit to another round of edits.

Unfortunately, there are some examples of [common stereotypes][cultural appropriation][outdated language][misuse of dialect][racist, transphobic, homophobic, sexist, ableist tropes or attitudes, and go ahead and use these words, no ‘racially charged’ euphemisms][for fuck’s sake stop redeeming slaveholders and Nazis through the power of luuuuuuurrrrrrveeee] throughout the draft, for example:

[List out some of what you found and briefly spell out what is wrong with it, i.e. “Spirit Animal” is a term that is sacred to specific indigenous religious traditions, a white woman of Swedish descent from Minnesota categorically does not have a spirit animal.]

[OPTIONAL – I’ve tried to flag and highlight problematic passages in the text as I found them], which you can see in the attached draft which I am returning to you. I did not make edits in these passages since changes on this scale would constitute a rewrite of the material, and the issues go deep enough that in my opinion some authorial re-imagining and revision that falls outside my scope is the right fix].

Additionally, while I know enough to spot some potential problems, I am not the right kind of editor to get this where it needs to be, so I must bow out of working on this project further until substantial revisions are made. Many authors choose to work with sensitivity readers for just this reason, if you’re interested I can link you to a few resources.*

I know this was probably not the feedback you were hoping to hear, but I hope you will take this to heart: This has potential to be a wonderful book, you’ve got such strong [worldbuilding][characterization][sense of place][addictive plot][idk think of something you can sincerely compliment and throw it out there!] that I think it is well worth investing some more time in making sure that it finds the widest possible audience and doing due diligence to make sure it is not unintentionally causing harm and making you come across as [racist, homophobic, etc. etc.].

I wish you well with making the necessary changes and I hope you’ll get back in touch when you have a revised draft. [If you don’t actually want this, don’t worry, this is like promising to be friends the second after a breakup, time will tell].

Best wishes,

[Your Sign-off]

Attachments: 1) A document with your draft with my initial highlights and comments. [OPTIONAL, obviously] 2) My invoice for X hours for work completed so far, due [DATE]”[YES, GET PAID FOR WHAT YOU DID SO FAR]

Hopefully that does the trick. People are either going to get it or they won’t, and you’ll know VERY QUICKLY which kind you are dealing with. A person who can sit with feedback like this, realize it is A GIFT meant to HELP them avoid harmful (and reputation-destroying MISTAKES) is someone you can possibly work with in the future.

*Some places you might direct authors:

Edited To Add: You mentioned looking for a new process for screening projects as they come in. I detailed one I used to use for writing screenplay coverage here that might be adaptable. I think you absolutely should spell out, in advance, some stages of how you work and lay out expectations, and one stage can absolutely be something like:

“The right author-editor collaboration requires trust and a large investment of time and energy, so part of my process is making sure that we will be the right fit. For new clients, I do an initial read where I give some initial reactions to story, characters, setting and suggest some starting points for the next round of revisions [spell exactly out what this involves, possibly incl. a basic template & time-frame]. Since this process reflects X hours of work, I charge a non-refundable fee of $$$ [this can be pretty nominal , and it’s also ok to base it on length of submission, so you’re not agreeing to read a freaking dictionary out of hand], payable at the time you submit your manuscript. Should we sign a contract for ongoing editing services, this fee is applied toward the first X hours.”

When you’re first hanging out a shingle, you want lots of clients, right? But when you’re established, you want the right clients, and it’s possible that charging a fee will also encourage people to polish their work as much as possible before investing the $.

A kind reader suggested the following additional language: “Content that reinforces racist stereotypes and oppression may be returned unedited and may be reconsidered for acceptance after significant revisions are made, entirely at the discretion of the editor” that you could include on your website and in your materials.

No comments today I have 10,000 things to do/write/do/write. Hope this helps!

 

As promised, Lenée’s regular writing project has launched at RaisingMothers.com, starting with a beautiful essay about ambivalence toward becoming a parent and figuring out the right choice for herself.

Did you know there is an advice column devoted to helping you find just the right poem for a given situation?

This weekend I vomited a bunch of feelings & personal opinions about the USA political situation in a “Half-Assed Activist” post at Patreon (free to read, “debate” will cost ya :-p).

This week I’m working on a Search Terms post and answering some questions about how to fight fair.

Hi Captain Awkward!

I came out to my parents about 3 years ago, when I was still living with them before moving abroad to start my PhD. They were horrible – and it made the next 6 months of my stay a traumatizing experience, to say the least. I think you could describe my parents as controlling, and when I came out there was a lot of ‘we HATE all the career choices you’ve made, but we had the goodness to tolerate them, and now this!’ Anyway. Moved out, moved countries, got a fuckload of therapy, and started the process of healing.

I told my mother (via a text) that I was moving in with my girlfriend and she freaked out. She is “devastated”, and my father, with whom I have not had an actual conversation since my coming out (made summer visits home real fun, if you can believe it), is “furious, and wants to disown you”. I… am not sure how to cope with this? The worst part is that I have a ticket home to visit them for nearly a month, in three weeks. Captain, I’m not sure I want to visit them (for three whole weeks!) after this terrific display of parenting. At the same time, I’m pretty sure that not visiting them will be taken as this huge display of disrespect and an indication that I *want* to be estranged from them. So the options are to either stay away for my own peace of mind and be a bad daughter, possibly irrevocably so, or to grit my teeth and spend 3 weeks at home enduring silent disapproval at best and emotionally abusive confrontations at worst.

Like I said, I don’t have a relationship with my father. My mother is the one I speak to on the phone and text with. I told her “I’m sad and disappointed that you feel this way about my moving in with my girlfriend. I don’t feel safe coming back to visit you, and I don’t think you’d feel comfortable either.” She replied and the preview contains another allusion to my disappointing career (for the record, worked at a non-profit, doing a PhD now, only a failure insofar as “not earning hundreds of thousands as a corporate lawyer” is a failure) and… I haven’t seen the rest of it because I get avoidant when I’m anxious. Do you have any scripts for like… how to respond and how to navigate what may potentially be a long, torturous process of becoming (formally) (even more) estranged from my parents?

Best,
Bad Kid

P.S. My pronouns are she/her!

P.S. Just wanted to give a heads-up that you’re almost definitely going to recommend therapy, which I know is a big part of the answer! The most recent therapist I had didn’t really work for me, and since I’m moving in 2 weeks, I might not have a huge amount of time / resources to devote to finding a new therapist.

Read More

Hello readers! I’m excited to get back into the blogging swing next week, but first, some chitchat!

Medical News: Surgery went fine, all is well as can be though last week sucked so bad as my body tried to decide between “pain regulation” and “all other bodily functions.” I’m back to my normal routine, got a clean bill at the follow-up visit. Now we just wait for “Guillame” to shrivel and die and do more imaging in a few months.

Random Culture News: I watched a rough cut of my friends’ upcoming movie Monuments last night and it was so, so, so good. They’re still in post-production and I don’t know the expected release date, but anyone out there who thinks “I’d like to see a kindhearted Coen Brothers-y, David Lynch-y sort of comedy about love and death and mythology that is a journey through the middle parts of America and it is sometimes a musical” are gonna like this one.

Kitten News: Daniel Striped Tiger and Henrietta Pussycat will be a year old at the beginning of May so time to switch over to Cat News officially then, but we’ve got two weeks left, right?

Sleepy Cats

Henrietta (L) and Daniel(R) are cuddled together asleep.

Lenée Appreciation News: This week ends the current guest-blogging stint by Lenée aka @dopegirlfresh. It was such a gift to have her help so I could recuperate, and it was a gift in other ways, like, how interesting it was to see someone else step in and do my job and watch that process up close. We did a little Q&A to close out her time here.

CA: When you said that you wished you could take over CaptainAwkward.com for a week was there a specific topic or letter that made you think “I have Things To Say about that”?

L: I found myself wondering whose internet-job I’d like to do. Would I want to tweet for Fat Kid Deals? Would I be able to field customer service on Wendy’s Facebook page? The answer was a resounding no; I realized I like talking to people and decided that being Captain Awkward for a week was right up my alley.

CA: You’ve stared directly into my inbox and lived to tell the tale. I’d love to know what you thought of the experience as a whole. Were there any trends you noticed, things that surprised you?

L: I noticed that people really, really trust you with their deepest and most intense stuff. I love that you’ve been able to build such a great space for people to get support and reassurance. Nothing surprised me; perhaps because I’ve been on the internet a looooong time, there’s next to nothing that surprises me.

CA: Do you have favorite advice columns or sites? Are there advice columns you wish existed?

L: Honest answer: I only read and consistently enjoy CA. I’m an occasional reader of the Redditships Twitter account and always read screenshots from AITA on twitter as they come down my timeline.

wish there existed an advice column that focused on trans and queer people of color. (Somebody please start one)(CA: YES HARD AGREE I will help in any way I can) 

CA: We’re surrounded by tips, “life hacks”, and advice from all sides. How do you sift out the good stuff from the useless stuff from the actually harmful stuff? What do you wish  advice-givers did more of (and less of)? Why do you think people are so into the idea of advice?

L: I often consider the source of a tip. For instance, I never read stuff in Cosmo or any similar magazine. It couldn’t be any less inclusive of me or anyone I care about. I would never take advice from, like, anyone affiliated with Fox News. And I don’t believe in anything Lena Dunham says, because Lena Dunham.

L: They can read my Twitter (@dopegirlfresh) or find me on Medium (same user name). In a few weeks, I’m launching a monthly column and will happily share that link with everyone as soon as my first post goes up!

CA: I can’t wait to read your work and I cannot thank you enough for your help and support. I know you’re also a member of Club My Uterus Went Rogue, so I’m going to promote the shit out of your medical fundraiser right now. Hopefully you can come back and hang out with us soon.

Comments Update: COMMENTS ARE OPEN. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. COMMENTS ARE OPEN.
It’s good to be back.

 

 

Update: the upper floors at the Southbank Centre are all shut, we’re on floor 2 in the Clore Ballroom, at the back of the space near the big window.

There is step free access to the left as you approach the space

 

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 13th April, 12pm onwards.

Colouring in!  Please bring pens, pencils etc. and any copyright free images for yourselves or other people to colour. Or just come and chat with us!

The venue sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff as well. The excellent food market outside has loads of different food options, which can fit most requirements, or you can also bring a packed lunch.

Meet on the fourth floor, outside the Green Bar (go up in lift 1, sadly not as musical as lift 7).

Here is the accessibility map of the Royal Festival Hall: PDF map

I have shoulder length brown hair and glasses, and I will bring my plush Cthuhlu, which looks like this: 

The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets. Waterloo tube station has step free access on the Jubilee line but not on the Northern line.

The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/549571375087294/. There is also a thread in the new forums for saying hello.

My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com

(May meetup will be the 18th.)

Hello NYC Awkwardeers!

What: Captain Awkward NYC meetup

When: Saturday, April 20th, 2019, 3pm onward

Where: Think Coffee, 123 4th Avenue, Manhattan

Please bring a deck of cards! If we have the right number of people, I’d love to play a big game of Nerts, which requires one deck per person. As long as the deck is almost complete, that’s fine– you don’t need all 52 cards. And if the deck has a distinct pattern on the back, that is preferable to a standard blue or red Bicycle deck! No worries if you haven’t heard of the game or don’t know the rules. It’s quite fun, and I’ll be sure to explain how it works. I’ll bring some extra decks of cards as well. Feel free to bring other games, board games, and crafts as well! Or just bring your wonderful self 🙂

We’ll meet at Think Coffee at 123 4th Avenue on Saturday, April 20th starting at 3pm. It is right by the 14th Street – Union Square Station on the 4, 5, 6, L, N, Q, W or R trains. The platforms for the L, N, Q, W, and R trains at this station are wheelchair accessible. The platform for the 4, 5, and 6 trains at this station is NOT wheelchair accessible. Think Coffee is on street level with an accessible bathroom.  They serve coffee, tea, soups, sandwiches and baked goods.  They have vegan options. Link: https://www.yelp.com/biz/think-coffee-new-york-3


I will be wearing an orange hat. I’ll be sure to have a sign that says Captain Awkward so you can find me. Feel free to email me with any questions or to let me know you’re coming. My email is ciaonsd@gmail.com


I’m looking forward to meeting you soon/seeing everyone who came last month!