House Rules: Always Use the Oxford Comma

Here at BrickHouse Books, we firmly believe in the Oxford comma. So does Jeff Brookes of Brookes Publishing, who recently sent this email out to his employees:

From: Jeff Brookes

I may be old school. I may be persnickety. I may be about to irk you.

Here goes, anyway:

Brookes House Style is, and always has been, to use the Oxford (or serial) comma in ALL Works, correspondence, titles, emails, marketing, and copy.

We are publishers. Embrace the Oxford comma*: There are no exceptions, it’s not debatable, and it’s the rule.

Thank you, Jeff

*If you are unsure about proper use of the Oxford (serial) comma, here’s a link for you to explore:

What do you think? Take a pause, then post in the comments below.

[Email published with permission from the author.]

The Priceless Art of Editing

Happy Friday, BHB friends and family!

After reading “They also serve who stand and edit” by editor extraordinaire John E. McIntyre, we couldn’t resist sharing it with you! McIntyre speaks to those who’ve heard the Call of the Editor, offering advice on navigating current publishing practices and moments of self-doubt. It’s an enlightening read for editors, authors, and the people who cut paychecks to both.

Editors are important, and their work is priceless. Thank you, editors, for all that you do!

And What Exactly Can You Do With an English Degree?

By: Shelby Hillers, Online Editor

Somebody recently asked me, “Hey, isn’t a degree in English like the next General Studies major?”

I was slightly offended and angry at his accusation. To me General Studies meant I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I took random classes. I wanted to snap back “Oh and what exactly are you going to do with a philosophy degree?” but I didn’t want this conversation to turn into battle of the majors. And I’m sure philosophy majors get a bad reputation just like English majors do.

But still I was offended and angry. I asked him, “Why would you say that exactly?”

The person simply stated, “You can probably do a lot with an English degree kind of like General Studies.”

I let out a sigh and a smile. I wanted to hug him and give him a thank you speech. Realizing his statement was intended as a compliment for all the English majors out there, I continued my conversation with the guy but his small, simple comment was like a planted, growing seed in my mind.

The first question English majors are faced when they tell others of their degree is, “Oh so you want to teach?” If you say no, then the second question is, “Then what can you do with an English degree?”

For some English majors this might be when they have an existential crisis and question their life. The question echoes in their minds, “Why are you an English major?”

Somewhere in their late high school/early college career somebody told them “Hey, you can write pretty well.” So they stuck with it because that’s what you do-you stick with something you’re “pretty well” at until you become the best. So the young English majors start taking some writing classes, read some poetry here and there, and maybe take some serious classes like analytical writing and grammar. Before they know it, they’re graduating and people are asking the same question, “What can you do with an English degree?”

And as the guy I mentioned so nicely put, “You can probably do a lot with an English degree.”

Last year The Atlantic posted “The Best Argument for Studying English? The Employment Numbers” that featured a graph representing unemployment rates as of 2010-2011 (the most recent data at the time).


And guess what? Humanities and liberal arts majors had a 9 percent unemployment rate. That’s right about the same as students in computer and math fields with a 9.1 percent, psychology and social work at 8.8 percent, and the social sciences at 10.3 percent. And as the article points out, “It’s just a bit above the average across all majors of 7.9 percent.” So really we’re all pretty unemployable and in the same boat.

But those numbers aren’t to encourage parents or others to say you shouldn’t major in English. Just doing a quick Google search will show all the career-related articles listing what an English major can do.

World Wide Learn lists top five careers for English majors ranging from public relations specialist to marketing manager.

Last year, the Huffington Post posted “What to Do with a B.A. in English?” that provided English majors with hope. The article explains the careers English majors can explore such as writing for publicity and publishing reports to stockholders and clients. A lot of businesses hire English majors. The article provides a variety of job ideas, “Ad agencies, which need clever writers. Politicians and some CEOs need speechwriters. English majors are also hired by major investment banking firms because the firms see potential to grow capable young adults…”

So next time someone asks the dreadful questions that brings on anxiety attacks and makes you question your  existence, show off the data, graphs, and articles proving them wrong. Then go snag that job whether it’s becoming an author, editor, journalist, or anything you dream of because hey, you’re an English major. You can do it.

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Submitting Your Work: A How to Guide

You’ve finally finished your manuscript but what now? Where do you submit it? Do you need to format it? What kind of rights does the magazine or publication have over your works? These questions (and about a million more) are all worries that new writers face. But not to worry! Check out Neon Magazine’s helpful article “How to Submit Your Writing to Literary Magazines” to help make your life a little easier!

Good luck!

Write For Us!

Are you a writer with a strong, unique voice? Are you passionate about all things literature? Make sure to check out our new page “Write For Us!” to gain some great writing, editing, and publishing experience!

Writers can guest write for this blog about reading, writing, or anything concerning the literary community.

Send your articles, questions, or any concerns to

Why You’ll Never Know How Important I Am

By: Matt Ferguson

My fiancée prefers to sit at the high top tables in the bar area, but I’ve always preferred the bar itself. If you get a good bartender, you get some good banter, and if you get the right crowd, you can meet some characters and hear some amazing stories (true or not). One day this past June, I won the argument and found myself sitting with my love at the bar of a quiet Irish pub in the suburban Orlando area.

It’s always hard to tell whether it’s okay to strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Sometimes, they don’t want to be bothered. Sometimes, you know from the moment they open their mouths that they’re not going to shut up. With that second variety, you also don’t really have the option of keeping quiet, because they are going to talk to you.

Well, on this day, I’d found a bar stool next to a talker.

Bob asked me what I did for a living. “I’m a student,” I said, “but I’m finishing up my year with the Disney College Program right now in merchandise.”

“Oh, I work at the power plant down there.” After a year in the area, I learned this couldn’t even be considered a coincidence. If you live in Orlando and don’t work for Disney, you know at least twelve people who do. “The College Program is horrible. They treat those kids like crap.”

Well gee, thanks, Bob. I just told you I’d worked there for a year, but go ahead and tell me all about how bad it is. (He did.) Now, I have a lot of nice things to say about the program, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested… with the caveat that you have to put up with a lot of crap. You’re underpaid, overworked, put in poor housing, and given whatever end of the schedule no one else wants. Those things are all bearable, but I was done with the program by this point. I was ready to finish my degree.

“But you’re a student. What are you studying? Engineering?”


He proceeded to spend 10 minutes explaining why I should have studied engineering. Why no one knows how to think anymore. Why kids would have it so much better if they went down the right path. You know, that path he went down—or was it the one he wished he’d gone down? To be honest, I started to zone him out for a bit, but I was brought back when I heard, “So what are you studying, then? Business?”

“Nope. English, actually.”

“Hah. So you’re going to be a teacher.” That’s the way people say it. They’re not asking a question. They’re telling you.

“Actually, no.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“I’m looking at a career in editing.”

“Don’t they have spellcheck for that?” he laughed.

Instead of laughing in his face myself, I briefly tried to explain to him the difference between proofreading (still an important trade, regardless of spellcheck) and editing. When he asked what I would edit, I explained that with words surrounding us everywhere—newspapers, books, magazines, websites, advertisements, and manuals, to name a few venues—I could really edit anything. I’m just looking for the right job openings.

He wished me some sarcastic luck with finding a job doing that before returning to his sermon on engineering.

This encounter is fairly typical of the kind of conversations I have about my career choice. People are downright offended when I say that I’m studying English and don’t intend to teach. They’re immediately horrified of the degree that I’ve wasted. And when I tell them I’m training to become an editor, they cautiously try to explain why editing isn’t a viable option—for one reason or another.

I’m not going to argue about the importance of the humanities. What’s the use of trying to convince a mathematic or scientific mind? I’ll explain why the humanities are important when I have children, but it’s not a conversation I’m otherwise interested in.

What does interest me? Well, for one, the fact that several readers will laugh that I—an aspiring editor—just ended a sentence with a preposition. Because English is the unofficial language of our country and because most of the people we know speak it, we all think ourselves authorities on the language. It’s true that we’re all experts in speaking English, but most of the people I know don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Instead of stopping to understand their language, they spout off random rules they learned in school. It’s wrong to finish a sentence with a preposition. Double negatives are bad. Fragments are an affront to the English language.

Not so—at least not invariably. As an editor, it’s often my job to determine when one of these “rules” should be followed or ignored. No technology will ever be able to determine which prescriptive rules for grammar are situationally appropriate at any given time. As an individual with a seemingly unusual interest in the structure of our language, that’s where I come in.

In many ways, I edit for rhetoric. I may decide one word is more impactful. In that sentence, for example, should I have used impactful? Will my audience reject my use of a “made up” word, or will they accept that language changes and that the word has a meaningful place in our lexicon? Or what about the way I started this blog post? Should I have led into this topic with an anecdote? Did I spend too long talking about Bob to get my point across? Will using this many interrogatives in one paragraph sound jarring or natural? These are important decisions to make, and we’re often too close to our own writing to be able to make them ourselves—even for wonderful writers like myself. Someone else will edit this content before it’s posted to BrickHouse’s blog.

An engineer can see why he’s important to the operation of a power plant, and since I would not be able to do what that engineer does, it’s easy for me to see that he’s important, too. I don’t fault Bob for not understanding why my job is meaningful and understanding, because the fruit of my efforts are a great deal more intangible. But when I read the work I’ve done to make sure someone else’s writing is effective, I know why my job is important. I am happy in my meaningful work, whether he will ever see it as meaningful or not.

No, I don’t blame him, but I wish I’d listened to my fiancée and not sat at the bar.



Matthew Ferguson, an Assistant Editor at BrickHouse Books, is a graduating senior at Towson University majoring in English with a concentration on the writing. Matthew lives in the Baltimore area with his fiancee Sarah, and he is looking forward to a daunting and arduous career in the editing and publishing industries.


How to participate in National Novel Writing Month (while you still can)

By: Shelby Hillers

Feel like you can’t take part in the long writing sessions of National Novel Writing Month? Are you watching your friends write their next Best Seller while you sit by and do nothing? Well here are 11 easy steps to help you be a part of those long nights filled with writing:

How to participate in NaNoWriMo

1.     Open your computer or maybe you’re old school and use a typewriter or pen and paper. Sit down and look like you’re about to get some serious business done.

2.     Crack your neck, back, and hands. Doing that makes you look like you’re in this for the long run—which you are.

3.     Grab some coffee and chug it down. Grimace because it is black coffee but serious writers drink it black these days but now you’re wide awake because that was disgusting coffee but it was worth it.

4.     Stare at your blank page and give it a menacing look. This look should come across as both crazy and slightly serious.

5.     Look around your room. Maybe there’s something that will spark a memory that digs deep into your self-conscious. Write it down. Maybe it was about your childhood pet. Or your best friend. Or that time you made breakfast for your mom. Write it all down with rich detail. Throw in some dialogue. Make your characters come to life with the power of your words.

6.     Take a break because hey, you’re not a robot. You need time to rest up. Walk around your house or wherever you are. Appreciate and notice the small things. You can use those details later on in your story.

7.     Once you’ve walked around a bit, sit back down and write some more. It doesn’t even have to be good. Just write something.

8.     Reread what you wrote. Delete it. Rewrite it. Rewrite it better.

9.     Cry because you’re pretty sure the first version was better anyway.

10.   Write some more. Write about your family. Write about your friends. Write about the places you’ve always wanted to go. Write about love. Write about that time you stayed up all night and saw the sun rise. Write about things that are painful and hard because it’s worth the experience of trying to capture those raw words. Just write.

11.     Hey, look. You’re participating in NaNoWriMo. Congrats. Now go back to writing.

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Shelby Hillers is the Online Editor for BrickHouse Books where she helps manage Facebook, Twitter, and the blog. She is a senior at Towson University majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing. She is also the Publicity Director for Grub Street, TU’s Literary Magazine. Her works have been published by The TowerlightLimerence Magazine, and TU Career Center’s co-written blog The Thriving Tiger.

What I Gain From Reading

By: Shelby Hillers

“Books give us the panoramic spectrum of possibilities for encountering life in a new way.”J. Michael Martin

I accidentally stumbled across this quotation recently (we always seem to find the best things when we’re least expecting it). At first, I read the quote and I thought ‘Yes of course’ but then it really sank in what J. Michael Martin captured in this one sentence. Books show us so much; they show us different ways of living life and with that new perspectives. If a book can show you a different way of viewing something you’ve seen for years, then I think that book has done its job and deserves awards. Because that’s one of the amazing things books can do, isn’t it? Teach you how someone else is living their life or different lifestyles that are happening right now. And if you’re just that much more aware of someone else’s view point, then I also think that you’ve gained an amazing experience as well.

For class, I’m reading three different literary journals- Witness, The Sun, and Hotel Amerika. I greatly encourage all of them and also encourage anyone checking out their websites as well. But within these journals written from poets and writers from around the country, I started realizing ‘Wow I’m not the only one who thought this.’ It’s both self-alarming and somewhat insulting to think most of your thoughts aren’t that original but when you realize the bigger picture, its way more comforting. You’re not alone in the literary world. In fact, someone has most likely had the same thought and was able to write it down beautifully. You realize just how much you can relate to these characters. You realize how many situations you can relate to. You realize that you can relate.

Books are amazing. They’re a way of escaping reality. They’re a form of expression. They provide us, as J. Michael Martin so nicely said, “spectrum of possibilities for encountering life in a new way.” And I can’t wait to pick up my next book, whatever it may be-there’s no limits when it comes to books, and learn a new way to view this not-so-boring world anymore.

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Shelby Hillers is the Online Assistant Editor for BrickHouse Books where she helps manage Facebook, Twitter, and the blog. She is a senior at Towson University majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing. Her works have been published by The TowerlightLimerence Magazine, and TU Career Center’s co-written blog The Thriving Tiger.

CityLit Project and Creative Alliance Present a CityLit WriteShop

Smile! Your Mind is a Candid Camera (Literary Nonfiction)

If all art is a reflection on the human condition, then literary nonfiction, especially personal essays and memoir writing, are a paramount art. Our stories can illuminate truths about our community, our cultures, and mankind. For this personal essay writing course, we’ll discuss what’s happened in our lives and what we’ve witnessed, and how that affects our stories. Literary journal editor and well-published literary nonfiction author, Dario DiBattista, will foster these conversations and lead the course.

The course will run from 7 to 9 p.m. March 21, March 28, April 4, and April 11.

To register, click here!


Creative Alliance at The Patterson
3134 Eastern Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21224
For information, call CityLit Project at 410-274-5691.

April BrickHouse happenings

All of this month’s BrickHouse events are free!

Sunday, April 1, 4-6 p.m. Launch party for Isaac Rehert’s renaissance at Minás Gallery and Boutique. When Isaac Rehert retired from a long and successful career at the Baltimore Sun, he began to study poetry. Since then he has been teaching a course called “How to Read a Poem” for the Renaissance Institute, a division of the College of Notre Dame. BrickHouse director Clarinda Harriss hosts. For more information contact Clarinda at

Wednesdays, April 4, 11, and 18, 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. Poetry Writing Workshops with Clarinda Harriss at the Enoch Pratt Central Library. Attendance at all three workshops is preferred but not required. Open to anyone 16 or older. UPDATE: The class is full but they’re taking names for a waiting list; please pre-register by calling 410-396-5487.

Saturday, April 14, 10-5 It’s the one and only City Lit Festival. We’ll be set up in the main hall of the Pratt Central Library all day. Come by to check out our latest publications and pitch us your ideas. Don’t forget that the Stonewall chapbook competition is still open. And from 11:30 to 12:20, Clarinda Harriss will be one of the readers at a showcase hosted by Little Patuxent Review.

Thursday, April 26, 6:30 p.m. Just in time for prom season, it’s a Poetic Formal at the Village Learning Place. Come in your best (or worst) formal wear for a reading of form poems—from the traditional to the twisted. Poets Shirley Brewer, Clarinda Harriss [that’s one busy press director], Bruce Sager, and Laura Shovan will be your chaperones and featured readers for an evening of glorious ghazals, sumptuous sestinas, tasty triolets, and seductive sonnets. Prizes will be awarded for formal wear, including: Worst Recycled Bridesmaid Dress, Best Blast from the Past, What Not to Wear, Best Accessories, Best Consignment Couture, and Crème de la Red Carpet. (Formal wear is optional.)

Check out other Baltimore literary events this month:
City Lit Project
more from Minás
Poetry in the Community
Poetry in Baltimore

Got something to add? Let us know.