August 26, 2009

Rejection is not always about you

Hope Clark had a great post yesterday on writers, editors and rejection. An excerpt:

Writers have good days and bad days. … Editors have good days and bad days. They accept and decline submissions for a wide variety of reasons, most of which a writer will never know and the editor will easily forget.

As I wrote in the comments at Hope's blog, the calls I most dread are from the public relations people who want to know why we didn't use the item they sent. Because usually, there's no easy answer, and even when there is, the truth isn't pretty.

One reason we might skip a story is that one of our competitors has already done it.

Other times, it's just not the kind of thing we ever publish. For example, I had a call from FOCUS about getting coverage for their Interfaith Prayer Action for Health Care Reform. I'm a supporter of FOCUS and have many friends who are actively involved there. But I had to tell the caller it's not something I could cover because it's national and nonprofit and we're local and business.

But most of the time, at least with the "People in the News" and "Biz Digest" columns, it's simply because we have a limited number of pages, and when they are full, we stop. A good news item might get moved to the queue for next week, but if something bigger comes along, that will move to the front of the line. A $5 million deal is a bigger story than a $500,000 deal. If enough million-dollar deals come along, the $500,000 deal may become old news before it ever sees ink.

Here's a scary statistic that I share liberally: We get five hundred press releases a week just for these two columns. There's room in the paper for about fifty. That doesn't mean the other 90 percent are no good; it just means there wasn't room for them.

As much as an editor may strive for objectivity, not every editor has the ability to set dollar-amount cutoffs to determine which submissions make the cut and which go to the bitbucket. It must be especially difficult for fiction editors, as fiction is so difficult to quantify.

Sturgeon's Law surely applies at every periodical and book publishing house. No one has the resources to publish everything they get. There are too many writers -- and PR people -- out there.

Sturgeon's Law -- named for Theodore Sturgeon, a writer and magazine editor -- says 90 percent of everything is crap. But crap is relative. The 11th percentile may not be crappy at all. It's just slightly less good than the 10th percentile. And when you're making decisions about how to spend your publisher's money and your reader's time, that 1 percent difference is enough, even if the reasons for the difference aren't quantifiable.

That's why targeting your market is crucial. You must know what the publisher or editor needs in order to increase your chances of landing in the top 10 percent.

August 21, 2009

But none are named Quatro

Watching the Little League Baseball World Series today, we couldn't help but notice the disproportionate number of players in the game named Trey.

Georgia has a player named Trey Maddox, and Iowa has Trey Creighton and Trae Cropp.

Yes, Cropp, a pitcher, spells his name differently. But the presence of several boys whose names are all prounounced the same, all in a single ball game, got us wondering whether, ten years from now, we'll be watching Major League Baseball games populated by vast numbers of Treys with increasingly ingenious (or is that ingenuous) spellings: Tres, Tray, Treigh...

And of course I find it amusing that, in this game, there were three.

August 15, 2009

Milking it for all it’s worth

I'm alternately entertained and consternated by lists of things I’m supposed to eat – or not. For example, one article advises me to drink milk for calcium to prevent osteoporosis. But another tells me to avoid dairy products to reduce my risk of heart disease.

That, along with a visit to a restaurant where every other thing on the menu had goat cheese in it, got me wondering: Why do humans consume products made from the milk of ruminants?

Or, as Calvin once said to Hobbes, “Why do we drink cow milk?? Who was the guy who first looked at a cow and said, ‘I think I’ll drink whatever comes out of these things when I squeeze ’em!’?”

Cattle have been domesticated for thousands of years, but even before then sheep, goats and other ruminants were domesticated and provided dairy products like cheese, which was developed about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East.

Legend tells of a trader carrying milk in a pouch made from a sheep’s stomach. After being jostled by the movement of the trader’s horse all day, the milk separated into curds and whey. Hungry, he ate/drank it anyway, and the rest is history.

Curds are solidified bits of milk, mostly protein and fat. Whey is the liquid that’s left over, mostly water, lactose (milk sugar), and some proteins and minerals. Yum.

Strain the whey from the curds and you have, basically, cottage cheese. Adding various bacterial cultures and leaving the results to harden produces different types of “aged” cheese. Soft cheeses, such as Camembert, are aged for a short time. Hard cheeses such as Roquefort are aged longer. Both Camembert and Roquefort are made using molds related to penicillin.

Dairy consumption is an almost entirely European idea, although it did also crop up in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Since Europeans spent the 15th through the 19th centuries colonizing other parts of the world, dairy products have become more widespread.

But many segments of the world’s populations do not — or cannot — consume dairy foods. The late, great Bob Mervine, one of Orlando’s most famous foodies, once told me the use of milk and cheese is unheard of in traditional Asian cuisine. Almost 100 percent of Asians are lactose intolerant.

Dairy consumption, evolutionarily speaking, is a recent mutation. The ability to digest lactose is present in infants, because they subsist almost entirely on milk. But the production of lactase (the enzyme that digests lactose) slows after infancy and stops at about age four. Or would, if we didn’t keep consuming milk from other animals.

Lactose tolerance is found only in cultures that have a long history of dairy consumption, such as northern Europe, where only 4 percent of Swedes are lactose intolerant.

In Africa, the population of southern Sudan, where people have long been cattle herders, is only 17 percent lactose intolerant. But in Nigeria, where the climate is not conducive to raising cattle, the lactose intolerance rate is 99 percent.

Native Americans also have a high rate of lactose intolerance — 95 percent — presumably because it is so hard to milk a wild buffalo.

Many nutritionists and physicians now question the health benefits of humans consuming milk from other mammals. Especially when cow’s milk is what allows a calf to double its body weight in only 47 days.