Letters To The Editor For November 9th

Bogus Book Orders

Angela,

Don’t be shocked about the bogus book ordering. The practice is very common and has been for years.

A fellow health writer (who has published many successful books) not only orders her own books but once sent out a mass email to all her writer friends asking us to call up our local bookstores and order her new book. We didn’t have to ever pick it up, she assured us.

I think it’s an appalling practice, but it’s not rare.

-Name not published on request

~~~~~

Angela,

I can’t believe it. I never heard about that one. I have problems with authors who purchase their own books from bookstores and don’t pick them up. I myself go directly with my publisher to order copies that I need of my books to sell. This way the books come to my house and I don’t have to pick them up. I purchased someone else’s book a couple of times and returned them because it wasn’t want I wanted, I had either the wrong book, or author.

The good authors usually get burned by what bad authors do.

Thanks,
Larry Sells
http://www.ljsbooksandthings.com

~~~~~

Hello Angela,

I truly love all your insightful articles and messages with Writers Weekly.

I do know of another author that did the same thing. (Children’s author) Except she found this information in a book.

She brought this book to our local writers group, then gave us a list of all the local bookstores and wanted us to go out and make a phone call to have her book brought in to the local stores. Later that year, she went on a holiday trip and stopped in as many bookstores as possible doing the same thing. She thought it was a hoot.

I thought it was a …. kind of practice. Needless to say I found her integrity and professionalism lacking. I was thankful when she quit coming to the local writers group; it was information that I didn’t want passed on to other writers.

Thanks again.

Sincerely,

Sharon C. McGonigal, B.Ed. SCWriter
Writer~Editor~Storyteller~Teacher
Writing Workshops~Write Off The Wall
scwriter-(at)-telus.net

Let Sources Check Articles? Well…Maybe Sometimes!

Angela,

Lo’ there.

I’m still reading your column. Still enjoying it. I had one comment though…about that person who wondered if they should let a source check their story.

I’m a fulltime reporter for the Boston Globe, and here’s how I handle that. If the source is extra sensitive about what they think they have said, then I offer to read their quote back to them. Just the quote. Nothing else. Before I read it, I tell them that it’s not possible for me to change it, but that I want them to understand how they will be represented in the newspaper.

If they object to the quote? Well, too bad. But I’ve never had anyone object, and most of them are glad that they won’t be surprised by tomorrow’s paper.

I don’t have time to do this with every story – only with the sensitive ones.

Also, email interviews are fine, but you have to be careful because you really don’t know who wrote and sent that email. For example, emails from politicians might not really be written by them. As a journalist, you could get in trouble if you didn’t take the notes yourself.. Far better to say, “According to an email, Dick Cheney said blah blah blah.”

That way, if Cheney chooses to sue, you won’t look dumb when the judge asks: “but how do you know that he actually wrote that email?”

Just my .02

And, keep up the good work!

Adrienne P. Samuels
Reporter, Boston Globe

~~~~~

Angela:

All of my writing is non-fiction. Well, the paying gigs are and I don’t think an across-the-board “No!” is the right answer. I think you have to keep in perspective the nature of the piece. For example, I write fairly often for a trade publication that deals with specialty metal fabricators. Often, I interview very well and have no problem getting the overall gist of what their business is, how they do it, etc. However, I will use a mix of quotes and paraphrases and want to ensure that I have all of my facts right, so there have been a number of times where I have sent them the article or copies of the quotes to review. In some cases, what I had written was wrong and it was lucky that I was able to get the message clear before I looked like a fool in print.

I would offer this distinction – if you are writing a piece for or about a business, you use less stringent rules than you would if you were, say, doing a piece on inner-city corruption in government or interviewing a celebrity about a sensitive subject. If the piece is not truly investigative, you have some leeway in how you present a person or their livelihood, and you should carefully consider the forum in which your piece is being presented.

Food for thought,
Mark Hoerrner

~~~~~

Hi Ang,

Your recent piece on allowing sources to review copy prior to publication piqued my interest. As editor of a construction equipment trade publication, I get this all the time. What a drag, each time I tell a source that we’re editors and not a public relations agency and that we don’t allow reviews. We do try to placate them by allowing them to review facts, figures and quotes, but not the actual story.

This actually works pretty well as well as questions and answers by e-mail. You might want to remind your readers to SAVE every document exchanged. I actually require my staff to record times and dates of calls, persons interviewed, notes exchanged and return receipts of e-mails. While this is a pain, it’s very effective.

I’ve gotten nasty e-mails and calls, after the fact such as, “Ha! I told you you’d misquote us!” then, when I tell them that I have all the documents at my finger tips and offer to send it to them for verification, they suddenly “have to get back to me,” meaning, that’s the last I hear from them. All these clowns want (as I’m sure you know) is to manipulate the story to suit their needs.

Hugs,

Peter

~~~~~

Angela,

I have to strongly disagree with this, as a blanket statement:

“It is not customary for a journalist to allow interview sources to edit their articles before they go to print.”

It is actually very customary in any magazine that relies on interviews with celebrities. Otherwise they won’t continue to get A-list interviews. Vanity Fair, for one, is known for practically letting the publicists write the articles.

It is also customary in some business publications that I have written for when it’s a CEO/owner profile rather than an investigative piece. In most cases, the suggested changes have been minor and have made the piece better. Don’t forget that the written word is often much more coherent than off-the-cuff verbal communication, so clarification after the fact often makes a lot of sense sometimes. It’s not like they’re trying to cover up anything.

One last example, just tonight I got a “fact check” e-mail from a major publication that interviewed me for a story (sometimes the tables are turned.) I made two suggested changes, which I’m sure they’ll implement because it has been nearly eight months since they first interviewed me and reality is a tad different on a pricing issue in the piece. I’ve had this happen several times with long lead-time magazines and the changes have made it into the article.

Tim Leffel
author, The World’s Cheapest Destinations
http://www.worldscheapestdestinations.com/index.html

~~~~~

Angela,

When I started freelancing I did as you advised Heather: told them it was editorial policy not to allow it.

However, it wasn’t, and one of my editors actually told me she let her sources vet every article she wrote. It wasn’t long before I started doing it myself.

I soon found I liked this arrangement better. First, the sources almost never wanted to change things to the extent of denying they ever said something. I often found they had said something not quite politic in their phone interviews and wanted to change the wording to appear more professional – but without losing the gist of what they had originally said. Second, they were often able to add valuable information or explain a concept I had gotten wrong.

The only problem I ever had was with PR types who wanted me to add overtly PR language like “XYZ Inc. is a proven leader in this industry…” And I would not do it because I had no way to prove that kind of talk.

My situation may have been unique because I work almost exclusively for trade magazines, with a specialty in public safety. Public safety officials are VERY leery of media and I found that giving them the opportunity to review their own words got me promises to act as sources for future articles. In fact, I have gotten in more trouble NOT allowing sources to vet their words – emails telling me I’d been inaccurate, misquoted them, etc. Not exactly the kind of feedback a journalist wants to see.

To me, allowing a source to vet comments – to be part of the entire process – is an exercise in public journalism and transparency.

Thanks,

Christa M. Miller
Freelance Writer
http://www.christammiller.com

~~~~~

Hi Angela–

I subscribe to your ezine and recently read the response you wrote to Heather who asked “Should I Let Sources “Check” My Article?”

Thank you so much for your answer! I used to do what Heather did. But I learned the hard way not to do this when I wrote a freelance article about an ex-board member of a local college. The board member’s wife got hold of the article and not only did she re-write much of my article but she, too, “cleaned” up her husband’s quotes.

But I would like to add one piece of advice for Heather — and this is something I do all the time. Whenever I interview someone I always use a tape recorder. After the interview I transcribe the tape (yes, I know it’s time-consuming and tedious but it makes the writing much easier, at least for me) and then I have a hard copy as well as the tape. Quotes are accurate and you have both a hard copy and a tape as backup.

Thanks again for a great ezine.

Chris

Kudos to Felice Prager!

Dear Angela,

I just had to write you regarding the article Writing Without Pizza by Felice Prager in the 11/02/05 newsletter. That was the most entertaining and uplifting article I have read in a very long time in any publication. Myself, overweight and battling health problems, could relate easily to Felice’s delightful and witty remarks.

Thank you,

Marti Parker
Razor’s Edge Writers –
http://p214.ezboard.com/brazorsedgewriters.

Is His “Legal Counsel” Really An Attorney?

Hi Angela — as a former attorney, I read the Village story with great interest. I totally agree that someone (probably as you surmised, the publisher himself) is pretending to be a lawyer.

I’ve never heard of a law student interning directly for a non-legal institution. These internships are carefully regulated so that the law student works only under the guidance of an actual practicing attorney. Law students have no more rights to provide legal services directly to non-lawyers than any lay person, or to represent themselves as being “legal counsel.”

By all means, follow up with the state bar. Along with publishers who don’t pay their writers, high on my list of people we could do without are those who try to use the law to scare off people pressing legitimate complaints by pretending the victim is breaking the law by asserting his/her rights.

Brooke
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