Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Don't talk about it, be about it..."

By now, many of you may have read or heard about this recent NYT article about the dearth of women on the op-ed pages of major newspapers:

Whatever other reasons may explain the lack of women’s voices on the nation’s op-ed pages, the lack of women asking to be there is clearly part of the problem. Many opinion page editors at major newspapers across the country say that 65 or 75 percent of unsolicited manuscripts, or more, come from men.

The article describes the "altruisim" of Catherine Orenstein, an author and activist, who gallantly contributes her time to teach women how to write and submit op-eds to major newspapers--sometimes to the tune of $5000 per group to attend a few lousy seminars. Ms. Orenstein lets the women in the seminars know that they are too likely to write to influence public policy, change the world or offer a new perspective, when instead, they should be thinking of fame, fortune and a TV series coming out of their writing. Okay, Orenstein should know, given that she is charging a small fortune to learn how to write an op-ed.

What I find troubling is the lack of initiative that these women display. Why not take matters into their own hands, research how to do a task on their own without a "guru" to tell them they are okay and that their words matter? For goodness sakes, it's an op-ed, not rocket science. Talking is good sometimes, but so is action. Why waste valuable time at a seminar getting your courage up when for free, you can go to the local library, get a book on how to write a persuasive argument and read it in your spare time--all in the same amount of time it would take you to get to a seminar that may cost a bundle? For example, when I was writing my book, I used Write the Perfect Book Proposal by agent Jeff Herman (who took me on as a client) as an outline and it was terrific. From this book, I used his techniques to write op-eds, submitted them and got a number of them published. The cost? $10.85 for the book and a few hours of my time to write each article.

And speaking of economics, if a group is paying $5000 for a seminar, how many op-eds would the group have to write to make their time worthwile? A lot. Op-eds sometimes pay nothing or $150.00 to $450.00 per piece--even for the New York Times. I once made $350.00 for a solicited article from the Los Angeles Times and thought I'd hit paydirt. So, moral of the story, don't waste your time paying someone to get you off your butt, massage your ego and teach you something you could learn with a little self-discipline and motivation.

Because in terms of economics and perhaps even success, most people are better off doing their own research -- heck, use the internet -- patting themselves on the back and getting the fax numbers of the major newspapers around the country (an easy task) and blasting out their op-ed to ten papers at a time until somebody bites. Talking all of the time about how to get things done often defeats the purpose of...getting things done!


Blogger Cham said...

People like to pay money to hear other people, specific people, speak. Politicians earn millions for a 45 minute talk. I doubt anyone paying big bucks to listen to a how-to speech is actually going to use the information discussed to learn how to write a few paragraphs. Perhaps the group is hobnobbing.

8:49 AM, March 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If advice is free, it can't be worth much". It's the same reason corporations pay consultants big bucks to tell them things that they already know and that their own people have told them many times before....the cost legitamizes the advice. At the bottom it's insecurity; most people don't trust their own instincts and thinking. Besides, if it doesn't work they have someone else to blame.

9:34 AM, March 18, 2007  
Blogger David Foster said...

This is related to the excessive worship of education/training. Increasingly, people seem unwilling to just figure things out on their own: they demand a recipe.

9:37 AM, March 18, 2007  
Blogger ron st.amant said...

I think I'm going to start hanging outside the door to one of these seminars and offer the people leaving a seminar on how not to get taken by seminars..I'll only charge them $3000.

1:29 PM, March 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a great book called "God is My Broker" that's about a group of monks who take the self-help gurus serious. By the end of the book, they've discovered the real secret of making money via self-help gurus. Highly recommended. I don't want to give too much away, but it's worth a read (especially rule 9.5). And would have been valuable for anyone considering paying $3000 for any seminar.

Maybe I should start a very expensive seminar on the answer to all of your problems. I'll give it to you for free: figure out what the problem is, figure out what is in your control and what is not, create a plan to fix what is in your control, just do it and don't bellyache about it.

But I think people feel lost and don't trust themselves. Between a lack of intimate friends, messages from experts that drive home the message "you don't really know what you're doing" and a true lack of thought about their current situation, many seem afraid to tackle their problems.

2:35 PM, March 18, 2007  
Blogger Purple Avenger said...

A sympathetic visage and a "will work for food" sign on a hot street corner in Chicago will get you $300/ free.

5:57 PM, March 18, 2007  
Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

I don't understand why this is a problem. People make choices. There are consequences to choices.

I choose not to spend my time writing op-ed pieces. I do choose to spend my time blogging. Am I a bad woman because of that?

And I second what Mike Doughty said about consultants. My company loves to hire consultants. And they hate to listen to the little people who actually know what is going on. So, the little people tell the consultants and the consultants tell the big-wigs and the big-wigs are happy.

7:10 PM, March 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thirty years ago, my then-husband and I were reading the "how-to" and motivational books on how to make a lot of money. What we did was spend a lot of money on books and tapes of people telling us how to do it.

I remember the title of one of the books was "Think and Grow Rich." The author did that, didn't he. He wrote a book, gave it a good title, and many people bought it. I'm reasonably sure he got rich.

9:20 PM, March 18, 2007  
Blogger Jonathan said...

-What David said.

-Also, some people like to attend courses, seminars, workshops, etc. It's a form of recreation for them.

-Finally, there's a selection bias here. There are plenty of people who avoid courses and prefer to do things by themselves, but they don't show up in counts of seminar attendees.

10:51 PM, March 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhhh...but just think of the bragging rights for "Worked under Catherine Orenstein" on a CV!

1:08 AM, March 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you sound like you dont like Catherine Orenstein for some reason. Your sentences say you dont like 'certain' people who charge money for their work. That seems pretty petty a projection onto others since you yourself charge big bucks per hour as a 'forensic' psychologist who works for hire when you can get the work. From what I hear, you make a lot of money.

4:40 AM, March 19, 2007  
Blogger Purple Avenger said...

It seems annon has failed reading comprehension.

6:52 AM, March 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You wrote: "The article describes the "altruisim" {sic} of Catherine ..." BUT, nowhere in the NYT article does it use the word ‘altruism’ you put quote marks around, as above.

You said the NYT article was about this: "...teach women how to write and submit op-eds to major newspapers--sometimes to the tune of $5000 per group to attend a few lousy seminars." BUT, the actual article in the NYT said: "...the seminar, which can cost a group up to $5,000, Ms. Orenstein said (although she has also donated her services..." You left out a significant fact that created not a full, but a slanted picture. We don’t know how many people constitute ‘a group’ that might pay up to $5000, nor do we know how many sessions or how long or what supplementary materials are given for that amount, nor do we know what future consults or follow-ups are included in the fee.

You wrote "What I find troubling is the lack of initiative that these women display." My comment to you is as a supposedly evidence-based psychologist who has not observed the actual individuals, you have offered no proof other than speculation out of whole cloth, about any one participant's 'lack of initiative. ' Lack of verifiable evidence in your assertions... makes your comments seem quite slanted instead of factual.

Your range on op eds re $150 to $450 per, is in error. Payment is far higher for well published and truly well-known authors. Also for many authors who are just beginning or don’t have a day job similar to yours, even $50 means a lot to them.

Not everyone writes to be in the limelight ad infinitum, or to attempt to act as an expert in some niche, or as you infer, to make the cost of educating themselves about writing "make their time pay off." Many write for reasons very different and often deeper than any of those. Writers who are writers first and foremost, do not do writing hoping it will be a helpful auxiliary to augment and market their primary profession. They have secondary jobs in order to support their primary calling, which is writing. Their desire to learn more about their craft, and what, where, whom and when they are willing to pay or not pay, is each individual’s choice. There is no one way for all.

The cost of MFA programs, some of which e.g., Iowa and Vermont C and others, cost a great deal of money, but also have put out some very fine writers who publish books with regularity, books which their publishers continue to support. Cost of education and output and commercial success aren’t necessarily co- relational. There are as many cheap hack book writers who market market market themselves because their books cannot stand the test of time and go OP quickly, as there are writers who write evergreen books that stay in print for decades with or without the author trying to plaster their face or photos of themselves everywhere.

When you promote your own agent's book instead of giving readers several to choose from on the subject, you lead them into a box canyon regarding how to write book proposals. In his book, your agent has one point of view that works only for certain kinds of books. There are many different kinds of tastes among publishers, and as many ways to write a book proposal that will sell. If your agent's book worked for you, fine. But, don't tell your readers it's one book fits all. It doesn’t.

Personally, we would never discourage anyone from education or support for their writing or art or calling in life, paid or unpaid, if they so choose --for they are adults with minds of their own and have callings that no one but they themselves can hear. If we followed your thinking in your piece, we’d have to ask, Why waste your time getting a Psy.D., or an Ed.D. or a Ph.D., when you can go to the library and get a book on how to design a research project and just go do it? You know the reasons why not. The reasons are the same for writers.

And your comment that writers should just simply be "...blasting out their op-ed to ten papers at a time until somebody bites..." tells us you don’t publish op eds in major papers. The ethic is to submit to one paper at a time; if you need a quick turn around, call and query. The further ethic is if you submit to more than one paper, it's professional courtesy to tell each paper that you are submitting to other paper simultaneously.

Your piece was purportedly about women writing op-eds. Frankly, it was about you and your fantasy about what went on at a place and with a teacher and students that you have not met and do not know. Young, older, not yet published, but hopefully soon to be published writers, women and men, deserve far deeper and more factual analysis.

7:00 AM, March 19, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Anonymous 7:00:

Who are you, Ms. Orenstein's research assistant? Afraid a few women may leave the plantation and figure things out on their own? Tough, women are smarter and more independent than you give them credit for.

8:03 AM, March 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:00 wrote:
If we followed your thinking in your piece, we’d have to ask, Why waste your time getting a Psy.D., or an Ed.D. or a Ph.D., when you can go to the library and get a book on how to design a research project and just go do it?

This is actually a very good question.

9:43 AM, March 19, 2007  
Blogger Joe said...

This is an incomplete thought, but as I was reading this it struck me that one of the criticisms of men is that they think they can do stuff and get into trouble--they want to build a doghouse so they just go buy some wood and set to work. This is such a cliche, Home Improvement made a series about it. Ironically, though, men are, as a group, pretty damn good at doing this. That doesn't mean our creations are great, but many of them are functional and do the job.

I also thought of craft classes where women won't make crap to stick on walls unless they go to some class.

I also wonder if this is one reason more men are car mechanics and engineers; both professions require lots of hands on tinkering and experimentation. Either case ends up with lots of failures on the path of learning.

BTW, this isn't exclusively a female thing; I know more than one guy who won't try anything--including raising a child--without reading a book first. I once laughed at one of them, then realized he was serious.

1:37 PM, March 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen: You wrote "...a few women may leave the plantation..." And your meaning in using the word "plantation" is?

2:58 PM, March 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

jonathan, I second that question.

Amy K.

7:27 PM, March 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way to address the issues, Helen! You never fail to fail to impress.

Why do you post and then refuse to engage in any related meaningful debate or discussion? I'm curious.

And before you say it, let me guess your response: "Why do you continue to come here if I'm so unimpressive?" (Yes, you are every bit that predictable.) But it's a fair question, though silly when you use it to further refuse to engage in any meaningful debate.

So, here's my answer: I am, indeed, on the verge of not coming here anymore. (And yes, I can hear your petty little response in your head now too.) Your rather irrationally biased and unhinged tone with reference to anybody on the other side of the fence from you has become well-nigh unbearable for me. The saving grace has been some of the other posters here who, though I often disagree with them, are generally capable of well-reasoned debate and often offer interesting info.

12:41 PM, March 20, 2007  
Blogger Joe said...

Wow, anonymous, what crawled up your butt and died?

1:59 PM, March 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aaaaaaannddd, you would not be one of those I was talking about, joe.

4:01 PM, March 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I usually prefer to read a book about something I know little or nothing about before trying things. I've finished a basement, run wiring for my pool, built several decks and a shed, done auto repairs, built computers... All my work passed inspection or worked first try and I've never had to hire anybody to get me out of a messy situation.

If you know what you are doing (books), are willing to invest more time than a pro, and have the proper tools, there are not too many things you can't do.

Seminars seem to be too expensive for what you get. A good book is a tremendous bargain.


9:18 AM, March 21, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent Post, I linked to it in Brief Politico-Therapies

11:28 AM, March 23, 2007  
Blogger Peregrine John said...

The question seems to be not whether an individual is a reasonable person for choosing to write an op-ed or blog or what have you instead of the other possible methods of expression, but rather, why are easily two thirds of the submissions for op-ed pieces authored by men?

I cannot answer this, but it does make me recall the oft-stated belief that women tend far more strongly to be better communicators. I recall it, with raised eyebrows.

(As an aside, note the further examples in this thread of why switching off anonymous posting would be helpful in the discussions. Speaking of communication quality.)

1:06 PM, March 23, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...

anonymous @ 7:00 am said: "If your agent's book worked for you, fine. But, don't tell your readers it's one book fits all. It doesn’t."

She also suggests using the internet or finding any helpful book from the library.

3:43 PM, April 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


2:24 AM, June 08, 2009  

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