When to blame your editor

How to handle the parts of your work that are outside your control

Realtalk me on how to expand the kinds of things you write about. For example, I write about race and gender often, but sometimes (a lot of times) I want to write about other things. But at the same time, I feel obligated to tackle race and gender, because often it feels like I’m the only non white male in the room. And if I had a nickel for every time I was the only person to bring those topics up, I’d be rich enough to buy an island where white men have to go through immigration and prove that they “get it.” —Anonymous

Ugh. Being the one to raise these issues again and again gets tiresome, doesn’t it?

This is why some newsrooms, like NPR, are still investing in major diversity efforts—in the hopes that these sorts of questions will no longer be the province of the one or two nonwhite reporters in the room.

When editors come to you directly with an unappealing assignment about race and gender, try suggesting a few other reporters who might do a good job with the piece. And deliberately name reporters who don’t fit the racial or gender profile. If your editors insist that you’re the woman for the job, ask them why they think you’ll do best with the piece. They’ll get the idea pretty quickly. And you can always pitch or accept the handful of race- and gender-oriented assignments that truly interest you.

Is it fair for a writer to blame his or her editor for a sensational, controversial, or just plain bad book title? —Jennifer

It depends on the publisher. I polled a number of friends who have written books, some for tiny publishers and some for the biggest houses in the business, and most authors said that smaller publishers offer more title control. Bigger publishers are more of a mixed bag. So there’s no rule of thumb: As an outsider, you probably have no way of knowing how much say writers had in their book titles—or in the headlines that appears on any article they write, for that matter. Cover art is a different story. Writers tend to have even less control there, something to keep in mind next time you’re tempted to judge a book by its cover.

What is up with supposedly “forward-thinking” publications letting real talent slip through the cracks while they keep the mindless drones gainfully employed? Is there some mathematical algorithm involving a publications size, traffic goals, and the coefficient of the integrity of the wall between editorial and business that one can use to predict when a talent exodus will occur? —Anonymous

Yikes. Usually, there’s nothing you can do about poor decision-making above your head, in journalism or in most other industries. Get over it now, and try to do it better when you’re higher on the masthead. In the meantime, if you’re the one who’s been laid off, the best way to cope is to do things that are way more important and fabulous than you did at the place that was stupid enough to let you go.

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Ann Friedman is a magazine editor who loves the internet. She lives in Los Angeles Tags: #Realtalk