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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.

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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.

 

 

Hello Gentle and Attractive Readers!

I’ve got a mix of very cool and very weird stuff to announce.

COOL: I’m working with Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary to get a series of book projects into the world. CaptainAwkward.com-based books. Essay books.

WEIRD: Tomorrow I am having a minor surgical procedure to hopefully take care of “Guillaume,” the giant uterine fibroid tumor who has been stealing my life force. I am very excited to get to the bottom of a long medical mystery involving nine-day periods, having to pee all the time, and many many many invasive and expensive tests but I’m also going to taking it very easy for a few days.

COOL: We’re hosting a very excellent guest blogger this week. Meet Lenée!

Here’s her bio: Lenée is a fat, Black, queer femme who lives in Philadelphia. She’s a lover of Black music, Steven Universe, true crime, and doing the electric slide whenever possible. A new plant mom, Lenée writes on occasion and usually tweets as @dopegirlfresh.

Here’s the story: Lenée and I know each other from Twitter, where I could not tell you exactly what first brought us together or when. Did I come for her wise, compassionate, and knowledgeable writing about mental health, race, politics, bodies, sexuality, feminism, and pop culture and stay for the jokes? Wherever it started, it turned into one of those lucky social media friendships where you enjoy someone’s feed and then you exchange a few cautious bread crumbs like you’re in the first half of that Emily Dickinson “I’m Nobody, Who Are You?” poem -and then suddenly it’s like this [a loose adaptation & extreme distillation of a years-long process]:

“You seem like you don’t suck! A rarity on this hellsite!”

“You also…don’t suck? Novel indeed!”

“I saw you have some weird body stuff going on. Wanna talk about it?

“Yeah DM me”

“Ok we’re friends now just so you know <3”

“Obviously <3”

A few weeks ago Lenée tweeted something about wishing she could take over my site for a week and I knew I was gonna be out of commission early this month so we hatched a plan. She wrote a series of posts for the site and I’ve scheduled them to go up while I’m recuperating. Comments will be off [you lot are wonderful but I wouldn’t let anyone do this without backup] but we’ll have an open thread  to close out the week when I’m back at my desk.

One benefit of collaboration is seeing how other people approach the work you do. I didn’t assign her questions, I just let her at the unfiltered inbox for a few days, and it was fascinating for me to see what she would choose. I’m very happy with the results and I hope you’ll enjoy reading her perspectives as much as I did.

P.S. ALSO COOL: I’ve been meaning to link to this excellent “Ask A Fuck-Up” column on “closure”  forever now, here it is, I think Brandy nailed what makes it so hard to let go of someone.

There you go. If that’s not enough to tide you over and you need jokes, here’s a (no spoilers) recap I wrote of every episode of Queer Eye on Patreon  which should be public by now. Be sweet, see you all soon I hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Details from your organizer, Agne:

Meetup in York, United Kingdom

When: Wednesday, 3rd April, 6pm

Where: Cafe at City Screen Picturehouse, 13–17 Coney Street, York YO1 9QL. Directions here.

Venue: The cafe is on the ground floor of the picture house. They serve cake, beer, tea and hot food. Both the venue and the toilets are fully accessible by wheelchair.

How to find us: They do not reserve tables, so I will turn up early and take up the biggest table I can get (I’ll try for sofas). I wear glasses with bright blue frames and I will have animal figurines on the table.

What to bring: Anything you want! Knitting, colouring, games, cards. Bring it all. Or nothing. Let’s talk!

Contact me on: dalelocalATtutanotaDOTcom and I will send you my phone number just in case.

Have a great time!

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve met somebody lovely and we’re getting married in the summer. (My pronouns: she/her, my fiancee’s: they/them) I’m thrilled to celebrate with all my family and friends…except one person.

My uncle has mainlined Fox News for longer than I’ve been alive and has selected me, his queer, liberal niece, as a prime audience for his rants. He’s also an aggressive alcoholic who has sent me crude conservative memes on Facebook.

If it were just me involved, I’d probably invite him and assign somebody to make sure he couldn’t make trouble (or have too many drinks). But I’m marrying a Latinx immigrant, exactly the sort of person he spent my entire childhood ranting about. Our wedding is going to be catered by a taco truck. I don’t want him to say something horrible to my fiancee’s family.

I can’t invite him. My father is lecturing me on forgiveness. My mother is brokenhearted and fears this will cause a rift in the family which can never be repaired. My uncle is a proud man and will quite probably never forgive me. But the whole point of a wedding is that I’m starting my own family – and I refuse to have our first day as family marred by somebody who hates the very idea of my future in-laws.

I’m not always a forgiving person but I think this is a very reasonable boundary. Am I wrong? Is there compromise to be had? And how do I stand it throughout the months until the wedding, fighting this invitation fight over and over again with everyone my mother recruits to talk to me about it?

-Wish We’d Eloped

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