Formatting an E-Book in 2014

Think of this as a disinterested public service message to all my fellow authors and small pressers and indie publishers. If you’re like me, you stumble your way through the e-book formatting process, reaching for Google every time you hit a fork in the road. Sometimes this works out well: the how-to article you find is 1) fairly recent, 2) authoritative, and 3) is confirmed by others on the Internet. Sometimes, though, you only get one or two of those criteria. And then what? You can waste a lot of time only to find out that the world has moved on.

Guido Henkel’s how-to guide for formatting an e-book (Take Pride in Your E-Book Formatting) clearly passes the test for 2) and 3). The nine-part series, while somewhat daunting at first blush, is authoritative on its face. The comments section sings the praises, as do many links from other authors around the web.

But…the timeliness of the series is in question. This came out in early 2011. Three years ago! Three years on the Internet is like nine years in real life – and in the world of the Kindle and its ilk, three years is probably more like thirty. Did they even have Kindles in 2011? Did they look the same? Did they act the same?

Is a web series from 2011 still relevant?

Well, I recently formatted The Promotion for the Kindle, following Henkel step by step. (It’s easier and quicker than it seems – don’t let the length scare you off, you save a LOT of time doing it this way.) And readers, I’m here to announce, that as of March 2014, it works like a dream. In fact it worked so well I went back to The Race and reformatted that one as well.

Bravo, Guido Henkel! Many thanks. (And a note to 2017 readers: you’re on your own!)

UPDATE: Guido Henkel stopped by the comments section for this post and offered up an explanation for his continued relevance that I wholeheartedly agree with. (In a forehead-smacking, but-of-course kind of way, as I mention…)

You can check out my own efforts at self-publishing by visiting my newly released author page. See anything wrong? Anything I could be doing better? Let me know in the comments or at!

The Futurists in Fat City

Umberto Boccioni via The New Inquiry

Just the other day it was the discovery of Charlie Chaplin’s novella. Now comes another article about Bologna:

Diners at the Bologna location were dubbed “experimental passengers,” seated in a room that resembled a fuselage, and served dishes named for an airplane’s various gear. Engine noises blared in lieu of Wagner. The experimental passengers came away from the experience unnerved and disoriented yet impressed by its beauty.

And which group was behind this onslaught of sensory and gustatory sensations? The Futurists, of course:

The Futurists wanted their cuisine to discombobulate. They imagined the Tavern of the Holy Palate not as “a simple, ordinary restaurant,” as Futurist luminary F.T. Marinetti writes, but as “an arts centre holding competitions and organizing Futurist poetry evenings, art exhibitions and fashion shows instead of the usual post-prandial coffee evenings or dances.” They designed their eatery to disorder the senses, to unmoor the eater from his everyday habits. All of this discombobulating, disordering, and unmooring they believed advanced a risorgimento, a wholesale remaking of Italian thought and culture.

Has there ever been such an Italian shift to a movement? Because really, what does food have to do with Futurism, other than the fact that no good Italian movement can survive without good Italians, and no good Italians can survive for long without good food. Here’s their attempt to justify it:

Despite their zeal for industry, machines, and automation, Futurists considered food one of the more effective weapons in the fight against tradition. Because it engaged the body immediately, it presented the fastest way of transforming the mind. And a mind transformed by modern food, the logic went, was a mind sympathetic to a modernizing agenda.

This is comical, and I wish I could laugh. Unfortunately, the Futurists are (as usual) one of the most misguided groups ever. They remind me of young boys eager to play war, not realizing they’re in way over their heads:

Soldiers about to get “into a lorry to enter the line of fire” or go “up in an airplane to bomb cities or counter-attack enemy flights” may wish first to enjoy a “Heroic Winter Dinner” consisting of three fairly involved dishes. First comes “Drum Roll of Colonial Fish,” a mess of fish, bananas, and pineapples eaten to a snare’s accompaniment. Then comes “Raw Meat Torn by Trumpet Blasts,” a single cube of beef marinated in rum, cognac, and white vermouth, given an electric jolt, and plopped atop a bed of red pepper, black pepper, and snow. (The dish’s presentation was meant to suggest an aerial view of a winter battlefield’s trenches, corpses, and spilt blood.) Ripe persimmons, pomegranates, and blood oranges offer a palate-cleansing interlude before the meal’s finale. Dubbed “Throat Explosion,” it consists of “a pellet of Parmesan cheese steeped in Marsala.” Immediately upon eating this “solid liquid” even the most reluctant warriors  – or “meat to be butchered,” as the Futurists urged them to call themselves – felt courage enough “to rush like lightning to put their gas masks on.”

Ugh. Every time I read about the Futurists, it’s the same thing. I laugh. I shake my head at how ridiculous they are. I get caught up in their enthusiasm for about two seconds. Then I wind up wishing I could go back in time and try to shake them out of it.

You can read much more about the fascinating Futurists and their feasts in Christine Baumgarthuber’s piece in The New Inquiry.

Brightening Your Day With a Little Little My

You wake up. Grumble your way to work. Slug down some coffee. Read some horror show news about people cheating America.

It’s the end of March. There’s snow on the ground. Do you really want to blog about these stories?

Like this one?

Workers’ compensation insurance premium fraud is so commonplace that it costs the city’s construction industry hundreds of millions of dollars a year alone…

Or this?

The former owner of an Ohio oil and gas services contractor pled guilty in federal court Monday to ordering an employee to release thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing waste liquids down a stormwater drain and into the Mahoning River.

Or this?

The former president and owner of a Wisconsin-based cheese company has agreed to plead guilty to distributing thousands of pounds of contaminated cheese...

Tainted cheese from Monroe, Wisconsin – where by God the high school sports team is nicknamed the Cheesemakers! What are we coming to?

Ugh. Do…not…have…the…strength…

Your hand drags the mouse over to Brain Pickings. And…kapow! Instant mood swing!

Yes! Look at Little My! Look at Moomin! If you and/or the kids in your life haven’t read these books, you need to get started. I’ve read a half dozen or more aloud, often through tears of laughter.

And this is about one I haven’t read yet!

Popova has many more pictures, as well as a brief history of the inimitable Tove Jansson, who really should be better known.

Popova and Jansson. What a great combination. The pictures will make you smile. The commentary, as always, makes you think. This is better than espresso!

One more to get the day started…

Okay, two…


Paperback Now Available! (And Bonus Minisode!)

Here we go! I’m pleased to announce that the paperback of The Promotion is now for sale at!  Kindle version is also available. Amazon’s currently running a sale on both The Race and The Promotion in honor of the new release.

And now…a special bonus episode of The Promotion. Enjoy!

Previously in The Promotion: Minisode #3: In Which The Narrator Refutes His Critics and Begins a Critical New Position

Today’s Excerpt: The Promotion Minisode #4: In Which the Narrator Meets the Deputies Who Will Make or Break His Fortune

Later that afternoon I met with the two assistant directors that Jennifer had scraped from the dregs of the firm’s partnership. The first was Martin Shvets, a transaction lawyer twenty years into his career but who had only been at our firm for a year or two. He was a tall, Slavic-looking man with longish brown hair and round, gold-framed glasses. Thin nose, permanent sneer.

He began our meeting by informing me that Jennifer had offered him the directorship—my position—and that he had “of course” refused to accept. Too much thankless work, he said, and no extra pay, not even a bonus. And dealing with all those résumés, all those law school morons who think they’re smart enough to work at our firm but who know nothing at all.

Nothing at all,” he repeated, as if he were accusing me of something. “Less than nothing. Worse than nothing.”

I offered a feeble shrug in return.

“Only a jackass would take that job,” he said, staring at me with contempt.

He had a manner of speaking in which his lips were always on the verge of curling with disgust, not exactly a smile but not exactly not a smile.

He had another characteristic I soon learned firsthand: whenever he shook hands with you, he stepped on your foot and made eye contact in an aggressive way. It was never clear if he’d done so on purpose or if he was merely clumsy, but this didn’t matter. Either way his response was the same. He hurt you. He defied you to do something about it. No one ever did.

Now, in his office, I mumbled something about looking forward to working with him and made my exit. Fight or flight, and the jackass chose flight. Not so much from fear but exhaustion. Let Martin go back to his stupid little desk with his stupid little phone calls and the rest of his stupid little world. I was on a high and did not want to let him drag me down.

The other assistant director, Linn, was famous in the office and even beyond, in a certain sense. Linn was the twin sister of a Swedish model who had been married to one of the most famous people in the world before a spectacular scandal had made his wife—and her twin sister—an internationally recognizable face. And just like her sister, Linn was tall and blonde and striking, a Nordic queen whose beauty stopped conversations cold. I had really only seen her a few times in the elevator and hallways—a vivid experience each time—and I could hardly believe we were working together.

She squinted as I introduced myself. Her eyes became little blue hyphens. Everything about her was adorable and perfect.

“We should take a coffee,” she said. “Do you like espresso?”

“Love it,” I heard myself shout.

We went to a nearby chain that was technically from Minnesota but had a Scandinavian feel. Although this was late August and D.C. was insufferably hot and humid, the coffee house had the air conditioning on full blast. With the wooden floors and tables and a silent fireplace cozying up the place, I felt as if I was watching her in her native habitat. Fresh off the slopes, enjoying a pick-me-up in the lodge before heading to the sauna.

My heart was pounding.

Next: In Which the Narrator Hears the Name That Will Forever Alter His Future

Can’t wait to read the whole thing? A full version of The Promotion is available on in paperback and Kindle versions.

Small Press Shout-Out: The New Press!

One of the most gratifying aspects of giving small presses a shout-out is that so many of them have a strong sense of purpose. Whether it’s becoming a B Corporation, or providing us with passports to international crime fiction, or building a community around works about identity, or helping to put more Asian and Pacific Island diaspora literature on the shelves, or simply reminding us of the beauty of handmade books, small presses bring us a step closer to the dream bookstore.

Okay, so maybe America today isn’t exactly the Soviet Union of the samizdat era, but it’s true that new or unusual voices aren’t always heard above the cacophony of popular or mainstream culture. Enter the small presses, to add a few grace notes to the monolithic drone.

Today’s shout-out recipient is no exception.

The New Press “publishes books that promote and enrich public discussion and understanding of the issues vital to our democracy and to a more equitable world.”

And just what are these vital issues?

I’m going to let their website’s topic list speak for itself:

  • African American
  • Arts/Culture/Film
  • Asian American
  • Criminal Justice/Law
  • Current Affairs
  • Ecology/Health
  • Economics/Globalization
  • Education
  • Fiction/Literature
  • For Parents
  • Gender Studies
  • Human Rights
  • K-12
  • Labor Studies
  • Latin America
  • Media/Journalism
  • Middle East
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Religion
  • Sociology
  • U.S. History
  • World History/WWII

Awesome. They publish Pete Seeger! They expand on their mission statement on their website:

Underlying The Press’s editorial program are three aims: to broaden the audience for serious intellectual work, especially by reaching out to audiences intellectually red-lined by commercial publishers; to bring out the work of traditionally underrepresented voices; and to address the problems of a society in transition, highlighting attempts at reform and innovation in a wide range of fields.

Intellectually red-lined! What a great phrase. I’ve never felt so excluded and immediately included at the same time.

This is the kind of press that traffics heavily in subtitles, which I’ve highlighted here:

The New Press has been around since 1990 and brings out around 50 titles per year. And while many of our small-press shout outs have been remarkable for the beauty of their website, the New Press’s site is all business. I would even characterize it as “workmanlike,” which I hope they take as a compliment. They’re not messing around at the New Press. They’re too busy delivering useful information.

You can check out their Spring 2014 Collection, including works by Alice Walker and Eric Hobsbawm, here. It also appears as if they recently lost someone close to them, founding editor André Schiffrin, who led an amazing literary life before passing away last December. A good time to send the Press some well wishes by browsing their titles and picking up a book or two.

You can check out my own adventures in small pressing, or indie publishing, or whatever it should be called, by picking up a copy of The Race: A Novella, now available in paperback, or my latest e-book, The Promotion! And do give Little Pickle Press (our B Corp shout-out) a little love as well!

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs:

Free Fiction: The Promotion Minisode #3

As previously announced, The Promotion: A Novella is now available for sale from Amazon as an e-book. I just approved the print version, which should be available very soon. As usual, I’m trying to keep costs down for the reader by pricing the e-book at $2.99 and the paperback at $4.99, at least for now. I’m also releasing sections of the book in a series of minisodes. Enjoy!

Previously in The Promotion: Minisode #2: In Which the Annihilation of the Narrator’s Soul Leads to a Stunning Development

The Promotion Minisode #3: In Which The Narrator Refutes His Critics and Begins a Critical New Position

I am aware that the purpose of all this is to explain my disappearance. And I know this is a serious task I need to take seriously and that my relationship with this firm will depend on the mah mah mah etc. I’ve heard the rumors—that I was hit by a midlife crisis (which of course is my business) and tried to reinvent myself as a television writer (not entirely true and is anyway my business). Or that I became obsessed with a woman I had never met (my business!), or that I got on a plane with the intention of kidnapping and/or killing that woman (my business!!!).

Oh, but you’re busy? You like having the main points summarized, up front? In bullet points? Because you’re so busy and important? Oh, yes you are! Everyone in this office knows it! And they believe it because you act like you are!

No. I will not be rushed. Not this time.

I’m telling you what you need to understand first.


I should have jumped at the promotion, of course. A passionate person would have! But I am cautious to a fault, ruled if anything by an absence of passion. I have been called “dead in personality, dead in spirit, a walking void,” a characterization I accept. And of course I was still numb from the revelation of the nothing email. Even as Jennifer the office manager sat in the chair across from me, all smiles and positive energy, I elided the two developments, the epiphany that I was worth nothing and the offer of a promotion. What I did was worthless and yet the firm was eager for me to do more.

They thought I’d be good in a new role with increased responsibility, Jennifer said. Also they had looked at the numbers and noticed that I was in a “slow cycle” of billable hours.

I heard all this and imagined that somehow they had seen my draft email with the typo. Worth nothing. How widespread was this knowledge?

Jennifer finished her description of the offer. I had understood enough to know it had to do with recruiting. An administrative task, in other words, like serving on the Management Committee or the Emergency Procedures Committee or the Green-the-Office! Committee.

I realized I was nodding my head.

“So you’ll do it?” Jennifer asked.

My mind was beginning to clear. Recruiting! Every fall our firm hired between sixty and eighty newly minted attorneys, who arrived the following summer, eager to please. They changed everything about the place: gave it new energy, pushed us in new directions, helped us serve our clients in new ways. And I would be involved in bringing them in? This was not a nothing!

I tried to stay casual. “I’m pretty busy right now, Jennifer. But I agree—it’s an important job. You need to find the right person.”

“Yeah. Anyway, my understanding is that you’re not that busy. According to your billable hours, you’re one of the lowest-performing attorneys—”

“I’ll make time,” I said. “Who else is on the committee?”

“To be clear we’re not just asking you to serve on the committee,” Jennifer said. “We’re asking you to be the director. I hope that’s okay.”

Her demeanor implied that others had turned her down. I felt sorry for her.

“Even better,” I said grandly.

She laughed and touched her lips several times, a nervous tic of hers. “You’ll be given a new title. Director of Recruiting and Development. We’ll add it to your online bio, of course.”

“Of course.”

This was more responsibility than I had ever been given at the firm. It felt like a new era.

I asked what kind of development they were asking me to coordinate.

“Attorney development,” Jennifer explained. “Ongoing education requirements. How to gain new skills, how to become an expert in a specific practice area, preparing for life after the firm. Everything that helps the lawyers at our firm become better lawyers. It’s a valuable job.”


The timing of this was extraordinary. I asked her several more questions. How much of my time was expected? Who had done this in the past, and how long had they served in this capacity? Who would help me? And what did it mean that I had a new title?

Jennifer smiled in an apologetic way. “Well…it doesn’t affect your compensation or anything. It’s more of an honorific.”

“Of course,” I said with a small shrug, as if I were doing her a favor. I was already starting to imagine the impact I would have. I could tap the talent pool in new and interesting ways. I would strive to put together a perfect blend of top-tier candidates with scrappy underdogs. This was not a mindless administrative task. I would leave my mark on the firm.

“We only need to change the bio for two weeks,” Jennifer was saying. “Then we can take it down.”

I frowned. “Take what down?”

“The title. Recruiting season will be over, and we’ll remove it from your bio.”

“What about Development?”

She smiled sheepishly. “Well… the truth is you don’t actually do anything for that.”

“Oh,” I said.

“We add it for marketing reasons.”

“Oh,” I said again.

We stared at each other.

“Well, I don’t mind having it on there,” I said to break the silence. “I can be the permanent Director of Recruiting and Development! You don’t have to take it down.”

“You don’t understand,” she said. “We want to.”

I didn’t know what to say. She stood up, told me her assistant would drop off a batch of résumés, and left.

“Congratulations,” she said from the hallway, with no enthusiasm whatsoever. “Congratulations, Director.”

“Thank you.”

We had one last exchange of awkward smiles before she disappeared.

On my screen, the nothing email was still staring at me. I changed the word to noting and sent it on its way.

Next: The Narrator Meets the Deputies Who Will Make or Break His Fortune

Can’t wait to read the whole thing? A full version of The Promotion is available on

How to Review Books by Alison Lurie

Man oh man. People, we have here a reviewer who has reached Stage Five on the scale of Great Book Reviews. An exciting development.

What are the stages? Let’s see…

Sometimes a reviewer makes you excited about a particular book. Let’s call that Stage One.

Sometimes a reviewer makes you want to read all the works by the author. Stage Two.

Let’s call it Stage Three when you want to read all the works of an author you previously had never thought you’d want to read.

And let’s call it Stage Four when the reviewer has the effect that Alison Lurie had on me with this one…

Continue reading

Don’t Be Discouraged: You Are New!

Editor’s Note: In honor of springtime, I thought I’d rerun this post from last year, which remains one of the most popular posts we’ve had. Hope wins!

In an interview with Tinhouse’s J.C. Hallman, Walter Kirn refers to a common anxiety among writers:

J.C. Hallman: Do creative writers have an obligation to act as critics, to offer up alternatives to traditional critical methodologies and assumptions?

Walter Kirn: Creative writers have no obligation do anything, including their own creative work.  That’s what makes them “creative” in the first place, not merely productive.  That being said, a novel or a short story is an implicit piece of criticism.  It suggests that the job – some job; that of telling a story, say, or representing reality with language, or torturing reality with language – can be done better, or at least differently, than it has been done before.

Kirn’s right, of course – but at the same time, we all know how paralyzing this can be. There have been so many authors! Every story has been told! Everything’s been said! Blogging’s one thing, but who am I to presume that I can enter the world of writing a book that belongs on a bookshelf with all those authors I love and respect and admire?

Even the great Dr. Johnson suffered from a version of this internal narrative, giving up on writing poetry out of a belief that Alexander Pope had perfected the art, not to be surpassed.

(Ack, I hope I haven’t misremembered this – I can’t find the quote. In any case, I think the point still stands. Moving on…)

So what to do? You write spooky supernatural tales – good lord, there’s Stephen King dominating the field. You write historical novels set at sea during the Napoleonic Wars – but how can you top Patrick O’Brian? You feel drawn to write a story set in Dublin on a single day – well, hello there, Mr. Joyce! And on and on and on.

But guess what? Poetry didn’t end with Pope and Dryden. Spooky supernatural books don’t begin and end with Stephen King. There’s plenty of room for new stories, new books, new voices. And that’s where you come in: you can add your creative skills to the mix. And find your readers! They’re waiting for you.

Don’t internalize the gatekeepers. Break on through!

Who’s Cheating America: The Bad Penny

Image Credit: USA Today

A penny sale! What could be cuter? In my family, we tell the story of my aunt climbing out of her crib, helping herself to my grandmother’s jewelry, and peddling it to neighborhood kids for a penny apiece. Luckily that was in small-town Wisconsin, and all the jewelry was recovered, with the exception of the priceless heirloom that would have enabled me to retire early. Alas, it was lost to the sands of time… for now, anyway (I’m watching you, Zane Zor Zirbachen!).

Just kidding. I’m sure Zane Zor returned the diamonds just like anyone else.

What does any of this have to do with America’s Greatest Cheaters? Well, a penny sale sounds a lot like a penny auction. Right? Probably one of those things online that lets you buy little trinkets or homemade goods. Kids learn how to invest their money. Spend ten cents and get a smiley-face sticker; fifteen will get you a fake tattoo or something. Hard to imagine anyone making much money at a penny auction. They’re probably run by the folks who brought you Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow.

Or… maybe not:

A key player in an online penny auction site pled guilty in North Carolina federal court Wednesday to securities fraud and tax evasion…Dawn Olivares and her stepson, Daniel Olivares, each pled guilty and face five years in prison for their roles at, a penny auction site.

What??? Five years? For running But that’s such a cute lil’ name! How much could this mom-and-pop (or mom-and-stepson) shop have been taking in!? A few hundred dollars, tops! And for that they get five years?

As a result of the scheme, victims worldwide, including more than 1,500 victims in the Charlotte, N.C., area, sustained losses of at least $750 million.

$750 million? That’s an awful lot of pennies. How many fake tattoos are there, anyway?

Hmmm. Something else must be going on here. (Pause for Googling.)

Okay, thanks to Investopedia, I have a better understanding of penny auctions:

A new trend in the auction market is the Penny Auction. How the penny auction works is you buy a certain amount of bids for a flat rate (the bids are worth around 60 cents), which are used to try to buy items. Every time you bid on an item, a bid is removed from your account and a timer pops up. If the timer reaches zero, then you have won the item. There have been cases of bidders winning items for up to 97% off the retail price. The danger is that there are others bidding on the items as well.

And it turns out there are a ton of these on the Internet, or at least there were before places like Zeekler started getting rolled up by the Feds.* They all have names like Beezid and BidFun and Happy Bidday and offer you the chance to buy an iPad for $18. Are they all scams? I suppose not. Are they a good idea? Let’s just say I’m hanging onto my pennies. You never know when the grandchildren of Zane Zor Zirbachen are going to show up with a tableful of heirlooms and I can repurchase my retirement plan for a cent. (Just kidding, Zane Zor!)

*To be clear, Zeekler cheated to the tune of hundreds of millions by ripping off investors, not just auction buyers.

Previous entries in our Who’s Cheating America? series:

Free Fiction: The Promotion Minisode #2

As announced last week, The Promotion: A Novella is now available for sale from Amazon as an e-book, and the print version should be up very soon (i.e., in the next few days). I’m also releasing sections of the book in a series of minisodes. Enjoy!

Previously in The Promotion: Minisode #1In Which the Narrator Takes a Break from Biglaw and Navigates the Depths of His Wife’s Passion

Today’s Entry: Minisode #2: In Which the Annihilation of the Narrator’s Soul Leads to a Stunning Development

It turned out that my wife had not been the first to fall for the streaks idea. Streaks did not exist in nature. You couldn’t count on runs of ups and downs. You had to bet each hand as if it were the only one you were going to bet that day, make your decisions on sound mathematical principles, win or lose the hand, and start the next one with the same clinical detachment.

I showed her the article. But did that stop her? No! Of course not! In fact the opposite occurred. She took it as a good sign: all her losses—the years and years of losses—had “pre-confirmed” her new theory.

There are no streaks,” she said in a mystified voice.

“It’s okay, honey.”

But she was already getting her things ready. There was a casino in West Virginia she could get to in an hour and six minutes. “No streaks!” she called over her shoulder. “My scheme still works—I just have to do the opposite of what I was doing before!”

Passion, my friends!

Had I overcome my own weakness for passion in others I might have stopped her. But I didn’t, and when she came home broke—actually broker than broke, as she left in our car and returned by bus—she announced that she was leaving me. She denied it had anything to do with gambling, but I knew better. I knew the role that passion had played. I had doubted hers for a moment, and she could not bear to be near me after that had occurred. At the beginning I had chosen her for her passion. In the end she chose her passion over me.

As I was absorbing the blow of this loss, or maybe because I was still suffering from it, a strange thing happened at work.

I had just drafted a memo for a client. In the cover email, I reminded the client of what she had requested and briefly summarized the key issues. Then I wrote that there were three other things worth noting, followed by a bulleted list.

Something about the email seemed funny. I spent a few moments looking at it, trying to puzzle it out, until it hit me. I had not written that there were three other things worth noting. I had written that there were three other things worth nothing.

I shook my head, chuckling at how close I had come to sending an email to a client with such an embarrassing typo. What a fantastic mistake! I prepared to tell the story:

There were four words in a row with a th in them, and I guess I was on a roll. So instead of pointing out to the client that there were “three other things worth noting,” I said there were “three other things worth nothing…”

I could hardly wait to get home to share this with my wife…except of course she was gone and my house would be empty. But I couldn’t keep this to myself! A colleague, maybe? But when? How? I never socialized with anyone at work. When would I get the chance to tell the story? At the next litigation lunch, scheduled for—I checked the calendar—two weeks from Wednesday?

I looked at the sentence again. Worth nothing? Ha—what if that were true?

But I was being paid to write these things. So it was demonstrably untrue.

Wasn’t it?

I closed the blinds behind me as if I were undertaking some kind of illicit project and forced myself to consider the bullet points, one by one.

The first point was this:

This is a draft and may change as circumstances warrant.

A hedging strategy. An absence of commitment. A loophole. What was that worth to the client? It was probably worth nothing! The attachment itself said DRAFT on every page.

Surely the second point would be better:

I would be happy to make changes based on your feedback.

I swallowed hard. This, too, said nothing of consequence. This was being sent to the client! She was paying for this; if she didn’t like it, she would request changes and I would make them. That’s how this worked. And whether I was happy to make the changes was entirely irrelevant. Even if I wasn’t happy—let’s say being asked to make changes made me very angry—it would not change the underlying dynamic.

I was feeling uneasy. My entire career was based on emails like this one. It was all I did.

With mounting anxiety I reviewed the third item:

I’ll be out of pocket for a few hours but will be back online tonight.

This was the worst of all! This one was unquestionably worth nothing! The memo was not due any time soon. My short-term whereabouts simply did not matter. I was demonstrating some kind of commitment to responsiveness—which, again, did not matter. She could expect it, or not, and I would deliver it, or not. My statement was not worth noting. It was in fact worth nothing.

As I sat there stunned—at that very moment—our office manager appeared in the door to offer me the promotion.

Next: The Narrator Refutes His Critics and Begins a Critical New Position

Can’t wait to read the whole thing? A full version of The Promotion is available on