Friday, July 29, 2011

Around the Word

Crowdfunding conundrum: In these e-volving times, book lovers are getting creative when it comes to funding book projects. Unbound, described as "Kickstarter for books," is an attempt to crowdfund books by unknown authors. Though it has received much attention and adoration in the media, Unbound has been relatively unsuccessful. A recent Business Week article provides some insight into the problems with the service, and why funding from Unbound might still leave your project unfunded and unfinished. What do you think? Is crowdfunding a viable model for publishing? 

Don't, uh, knock the, er, pauses: The traditional rules of public speaking dictate that verbal stumbles make you seem unprepared and nervous and are distracting to your audience. But author and journalist Michael Erard, who has written a whole book on the subject of "um," argues in a Slate column this week that filler sounds have an important place in language. Pauses give listeners a chance to prep for what you're saying next and they make you sound more natural. Though we would suggest that there is a difference between a thoughtful, silent pause and a jarring "um," "er" or (heaven forbid) "like," Erard's defense of these public speaking pariahs is definitely worth, uh, considering.

Battling the blogosphere: The blogosphere can be an infuriating place for the accomplished writer, with blogs putting out mediocre and/or unoriginal content often filled with typos that draw thousands of followers and hundreds of likes and retweets. But writer and marketing pro Jeff Goins suggests on Copyblogger that there may be more upside than dark side for writing professionals. Not only does the packed blogosphere create a sense of competition that forces you to write content that stands out over the noise, but bad bloggers also need good writing coaches and ghosts like you. How have you leveraged your writing skills to make your mark on the digital discussion?

Your favorite author's favorite tunes: Now that the music-streaming service Spotify is available in the United States, GalleyCat is wedding music and literature by creating playlists inspired by some of their favorite authors. So far they have mixes for Haruki Murakami and Kate Christensen. What other writer-inspired playlists would you like to see?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Around the Word

The Worst Sentence of 2011: The revolting votes are in, and University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh professor Sue Fondrie has been officially declared the writer of the worst sentence of 2011. She won this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, named after Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, the author famous for having written the opening line "It was a dark and stormy night." The good professor's very bad sentence was this: "Cheryl's mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories." Check out the website for the runners-up in this year's battle of the bad-inage. (h/t GalleyCat).

Kvetch session, part 2: The timing of the worst sentence award was quite apt, what with the epidemic of rhetoric rage we seem to be experiencing these days. We've documented several of these gripe sessions about lazy language and clanging cliches here on the BloGG, from our discussion of vampire words to a poll Ragan is conducting on the worst writing pet-peeves. Now, our friend David Meadvin at Inkwell Strategies has weighed in with his team's least-favorite words as well. From the incorrect ("irregardless") to the overused ("basically"), this list will surely inspire you to come up with your own list of cringe-worthy words. Let us know which words you can't stand in the comments below.

Promotion, plus: Many of our friends in the publishing world are touting the potential of Google+ as a promotional tool for writers, and this week GalleyCat is out with some particularly useful tips on how to make the most of your new Google network. Check out their post to add your name to their Writers on Google+ directory and for links to tools for organizing, posting and networking. So far, how have you used Google+?

Read you like a book: Are you an introspective Salinger? Or a life of the party Vonnegut? Maybe a romantic Austen or macabre Shelley. As most bibliophiles know, the tomes on your bookshelf say a lot about you. Check out the Huffington Post's slideshow on what your favorite writer says about your personality.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Around the Word

Facebook for book-buyers: Part of the joy of browsing a brick-and-mortar bookstore is the opportunity to ask a knowledgeable sales clerk or stranger for a recommendation. And part of the joy of online book buying is being able to purchase the newest John Grisham without leaving your house. But what if you could combine the experiences with a social feature built in to the online book store? You could chat with customers browsing for similar titles, or ask questions of employees. Publishing executive and blogger Joe Wikert imagines the possibilities of this retail mash-up -- the social online bookstore -- and it sounds like a pretty neat idea to us. Would you go social when shopping for books?

Signed, sealed, e-livered: The book signing ain't what it used to be. A new service called Kindlegraph allows you to score a personally signed e-book, without ever being in the same room as the author. The way it works: sign into Twitter, find the book on Kindlegraph, and then your request is forwarded to the author, who signs a digital copy and sends it back to you. Though we sort of thought the whole point of going to a book signing was to meet your favorite author, this idea does have some cool potential as a marketing tool for writers. For example, TechCrunch writer Paul Carr offered to pen personalized haikus on Kindlegraph for buyers of his book. What do you think? Is the digital John Hancock the book signing of the future? 

A grammar lesson for the dash-happy: The em dash-en dash debate has been around as long as word nerds have taken to the Internet to talk about it. You may recall a few months ago we highlighted  the case against the em dash made by Slate writer Noreen Malone. Now Baltimore Sun grammar guru  John E. McIntyre has weighed in on the dispute in a recent column, clarifying the difference between dashes and hyphens, and cautioning against using the dash too liberally. Which side of the dash controversy do you fall on?

Ladies and gentlemen, start your kvetching: All writers have pet peeve mistakes that really drive them crazy, like passive voice, use of cliches or misused homophones. Now you have an opportunity to have your grievances heard and counted. Ragan is conducting a poll via LinkedIn about which writing wrongs make them want to hurl their laptops against the wall most. You can cast your vote here.  

Vital videos: Our friend David Murray at Vital Speech is seeking nominations for the Strategic Video Awards, sponsored by VSOTD's corporate parent, McMurry. The awards will honor the most persuasive corporate videos in a variety of categories, from training to sales to leadership communication. The contest aims to reward "not the style of your video, but the substance of your communication," so if your company has a video with something to say, make sure to enter before the October 14 deadline.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Around the Word

Latest stats on the e-volution: The latest sales numbers from the Association of American Publishers, out yesterday, show that e-books are flying off the e-shelves. For the first half of 2011, e-book sales are up 160 percent over the same period last year. Print sales, though, have continued to take a hit. Paperbacks are still the best-selling format for books, but their numbers dipped nearly 18 percent over last year and hardcovers fell 23 percent. Begs the question: will hard cover be a viable format five years from now?

Iran's book-banning binge: Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, gave a stark reminder this week of just how repressive his regime is. Khamenei has put in place one of the world's strictest censorship policies, which has triggered a backlash from the country's intellectual elite, including a former culture minister. Appearing before a group of librarians and publishing industry leaders on Wednesday, Khamenei defended his literary crackdown by likening "harmful books" to "poisonous" drugs. The Guardian reports that words such as "kiss," "beloved," "wine" and "meditation" are often censored out during the lengthy approval process for books published in Iran.

Running with the big blog dogs: One question we hear often from our writers who are starting blogs is how do you attract readers? Pro blogger Jennifer Brown Banks suggests that one of the best things you can do is get some pickup and residual shine from one of the "big dog" blogs. Writing on Men with Pens, Banks gives some compelling reasons for why you should give guest blogging a shot and also provides some handy tips for scoring that top spot. Shameless plug: We're always looking for guest bloggers here on the BloGG, so leave a comment if you're interested in doing a guest spot. 

Ugly Americanisms: The BBC recently ran a piece about Americanisms that have made their way into language in the UK. The reaction to the article was so strong that the BBC compiled and posted 50 of the most common -- and often revolting -- examples of Americanisms they received from readers. While some of the commenters seem to have their noses in the air -- one wrote, "I caught myself saying 'shopping cart' instead of 'shopping trolley' today and was thoroughly disgusted with myself"-- the list of hated Americanisms is pretty amusing to the language-loving Yank. "Can I get a..." "leverage" and "normalcy" all made the list. Our favorite: the outraged Brit who despised the American use of "bi-weekly" instead of "fortnightly."

Knucklerap Corner (July Edition)

By Lauren Weiner

(Maybe) The Last Word on Vampire Words. . .

When Gotham President Dan Gerstein polled GG habitu├ęs about “vampire words” that suck the life out of your prose, everybody sat up in their ergonomic desk chairs. All of a sudden it was a rush of e-mails – a veritable pet-peeve party that we at Knucklerap Corner found inspiring.

Bob Yeager gets annoyed when policymakers cap their thoughts with the phrase, “going forward.” So do we, Bob.

Other irritations we were glad to see singled out: “leverage” (Tracy Ivie) and “optics” (D.Z. Stone).

Sue Treiman subjected “impactful” to the ridicule it so richly deserves.

Zachary Janowski brought up “palpable,” as in, obvious or noticeable. We have a palpable sense that we hadn’t stopped to consider this. He may be right. Unless it’s needed for rhythm, strike it out.

Bruce Tallerman put his finger on corporate-style fakeness: “Can you please reach out to Bill?”

And finally, when Margaret Camp added her two cents to the discussion, they consisted of two syllables: “involved.” That one knocked us over. We will be sensitive to its use forever more. It encompasses huge, simply huge, swaths of mediocrity. “We thank our audience for getting so involved in this effort.” “Parents are too involved in their children’s lives.” “The involved procedure for getting a business license.” (What’s wrong with lengthy?) “ICC Prosecutor Willing to Get Involved in Case.” The less touchy-feely headline writers of old would have gone with: Willing to Join Case.

Stumbles of the “Gray Lady” Continue. . . .

New York Times, July 15, 2011. Jackie Calmes: “What makes a bipartisan ‘grand bargain’ so elusive are less the budget numbers, on which compromise could be in reach, than each side’s principles, which do not lend themselves to splitting the difference.”

The first verb, “makes,” is singular, properly matching the singular noun “bargain.” But then we get a noun-verb agreement error. “Are” should have been “is.” In other words, what makes it so elusive is less the numbers than the principles. This mess-up was on the newspaper’s front page above the fold.

New York Times, July 12, 2011. Mark Landler and David E. Sanger: “The turning point in the administration’s public posture came after angry crowds attacked and vandalized the United States Embassy in Damascus.”

A posture can turn, but why say that it has a turning point? Mixed metaphor. The authors could have pared it down: “The turning point came” when the crowds attacked the embassy. We would have known from the context what this referred to (the administration’s stance toward Syria).

New York Times Book Review, June 26, 2011. Jessica Bruder: “The microscope of adolescence also inflicts perceptual distortions.”

She meant that the microscope of adolescence distorts perceptions. “Inflicts” should be for a knife or something like that.

New York Times Book Review, June 26, 2011. Maria Russo: “Neither Dorothy nor Ros comes across as an exceptional personality, yet they were clearly ready for something more than the staid milieu upstate New York had on offer.”

The place had a milieu – of that we can be fairly sure. Saying it had a milieu on offer is jazzy while not actually making very much sense.

New York Times, November 21, 2010. Jon Caramanica: “That patchwork gnaws away at this album’s emotional impact.”

Since when does a patchwork have teeth? Mixed metaphor. And here is a dangling modifier from Mr. Caramanica: “By not allowing for responses to his work other than awe, the value of the work itself is diminished; it becomes an object of admiration, not of study.”

Kanye West, the one who does not allow responses to his work other than awe, has disappeared from the sentence. He needs to come after its opening clause.

Miscellaneous Mess-Ups. . . ., June 26, 2011. Gerald V. Casale: “So, in the end our battles with the record label over our image, message, and the way business should be conducted, or our pronouncements in the press criticizing religious belief systems and duplicitous political policies were not the conflicts of our undoing.”

These things were not our undoing. That’s what he meant. Can skip “the conflicts of.” In fact it’s a corruption of an existing idiom (the cause of our undoing).

Washington Times, February 25, 2011. Lauren Weiner: “Anyone who reads it will no longer feel surprised that the health care overhaul, the conduct of the Iraq war, or many other hot-button issues are argued about in terms of its compatibility or incompatibility with a document that went into effect in 1789.”

The singular pronoun “its” has a plural antecedent noun (“issues”) and you can’t do that. To make the sentence consistent, change to: “many another hot-button issue is.” Knucklerap’s editor has it on good authority that that was what the writer originally submitted.

Weiner, a Gotham team member, was a speechwriter for U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pricing Workshop Now Available Online

If you missed our free workshop Monday on writing pricing, the full video is now available online in two different formats, thanks to our partners at ASJA.

You can download it directly from the ASJA site. Or if you prefer something simpler, you can catch it on YouTube.

Thanks again to our panelists -- author Laurie Lewis, ghostwriter Ellen Neuborne, and agent Linda Konner -- for delivering a highly informative discussion.

P.S. For those of you interested in picking up Lewis' book on the subject -- What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants -- you can buy it here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Around the Word

Self-publishing self-help: For those who are thinking about dipping their toes into the self-publishing waters, Mashable has kindly offered a handy step-by-step guide for using CreateSpace, Amazon's increasingly popular self-publishing service. CreateSpace offers easy formatting, distribution and marketing through Amazon, and seems like a highly accessible way to self-publish in print (e-book formatting is at an additional cost). Have you used CreateSpace? Let us know what your experience was.

RIP Borders: As most of our fellow word nerds know, Borders has officially bit the book bin dust, with the fallen giant announcing yesterday that it will shutter the rest of its stores and liquidates its assets. Many literature lovers are mourning the final chapter in this Chapter 11 saga, but as this Boston Globe story makes clear, most people are not wasting any time or tears in running into the arms of Amazon for their book buying needs.

"This is not for you": Unless you're directly mentioned, most people don't give a second thought to reading book dedications. But for bibliophiles, they can often be the source of revealing insights and juicy tidbits. With that in mind, the Guardian recently took a look at some of the most unique, and sometimes sassy, dedications written by famous authors. From Joe Abercrombie's often violent novels dedicated to his daughters ("For Grace -- One day you will read this and be slightly worried") to Mark Z. Danielewski's brutally honest dedication, "This is not for you," creative dedications tell a story all their own.

I can write that memoir in six words: If sunshine, barbecues and beaches make you feel all poetic, this contest might be for you. Next Monday in Manhattan, Smith Magazine is sponsoring the summer edition of their Six Word Memoir Slam. The theme? "Camp, Summer Stock, and the Family Vacation." For more details on the event, including how to enter, check out the 92YTribeca website. (h/t GalleyCat)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

GG in the News

Much like their immortal namesake, the fascination with vampire words refuses to die.

Two weeks after we kicked off a juicy conversation about these terms and cliches that suck the life force out of sentences, which was highlighted in PR Daily, reporter Russell Working came back yesterday for another (ahem) bite at the apple.

As he says in his latest article, Working got so many great contributions from our writers after his initial deadline that he felt moved to do a follow-up piece, headlined Jargon and corporate-speak that drive communicators crazy.

Thanks again to all our writers who shared their beefs with us and for, in the words of Jesse Jackson, keeping the trope alive.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Around the Word

Free or fee? With our workshop on writing pricing scheduled for tonight, we have finances on our brain at the moment. So we were especially intrigued by a post that digital guru Chris Brogan has up today on the selling of knowledge and whether to charge for advice-dispensing seminars, webcasts, etc., like the one we're sponsoring. Our workshop is free, but that's for a strategic purpose. Brogan makes a very good case for why there is nothing wrong -- and often compelling reasons -- for writing pros and other experts to charge a fair price for their expertise. Take a look and let us know if you agree or not. 

Columbia Pub students hit the e-books: The Columbia Publishing Course has a long tradition in the publishing industry -- the six-week summer course for aspiring literati has helped launch many New York publishing careers. But in another sign of the e-volving times, the New York Times reports today that the old-line standby is taking a distinctively online flavor, focusing on e-books, digital marketing and self-publishing. "The industry has changed," said the director of the program, Lindy Hess. "Students have to learn all the old stuff and get a grasp on the digital world." We'd be curious to hear from any recent CPC grads about their experience with this new curriculum.

Self-publishing for tweens: Forget about the big box bookstores -- e-publishing is jumping straight into the sandbox. GalleyCat tells us that Barnes & Noble is now shopping an app for the Nook Color that enables  kids to design and publish their own e-books. The app has the potential to create "a whole generation of kids who grow up with the idea that books are written on devices, for devices." Is this a sign of the publishing apocalypse? Or an opportunity for the digital generation to learn to love and create books? 

Ripped from the headlines: With Rupert Murdoch's News of the World hacking scandal dominating the news, it was only a matter of time before someone put together a required reading list for more content and context on journalism scandals past. GOOD Magazine was good enough to fill that void over the weekend, rounding up the best fiction and non-fiction about conflicts of interest, brazen fabrications, and unscrupulous reporters. Check out this list, and be glad you don't work for William Randolph Hearst.

REMINDER: Writing Pricing Workshop Tonight

Here's your final call for the free workshop we're co-hosting with ASJA tonight for writers for hire on how to charge for your services.

Come hear our panel of industry experts share the practical and (often) painful lessons they have learned from years of writing and pricing for others, including rules of thumb and traps to avoid. We'll also have free drinks, snacks, and air conditioning.

Monday, July 18
6-7:30 p.m.

NYU Journalism Institute
20 Cooper Square, 7th Floor 

P.S. If you prefer to watch online, we will be livestreaming the discussion on the ASJA website. You can find the link here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Around the Word

Summertime and the networking's not easy: If you live in New York, you know how challenging it can be to schedule a meeting in the summer, and that goes double for making personal connections in the publishing biz. To help writers and other PR pros to know when to hound 'em and when to fold 'em, the social media and publicity agency Inkhouse did a poll on vacation plans to pinpoint the best and worst weeks to pitch during the summer. Weeks to avoid: July 11 (18 percent on vacation), July 25 (11 percent) August 1 (11 percent), September 5 (10 percent), September 12 (13 percent). Weeks to act: August 15 (6 percent) and August 22 (4 percent). How do these dates comport with your experience? (h/t to GalleyCat)

Opening lines: The hardest part of writing -- whether you are master novelist or a middle-school book reporter -- is often figuring out where, and how, to start. No one has discovered a secret sauce for effective openings. But Chris Tribble, a lecturer in applied linguistics at Kings College London, has done some research suggesting their are some common elements. He studied the ledes of a wide range of articles in the Guardian and identified the paper's top 20 three-word sentence beginnings "that, when taken with the words that follow them, constitute a sort of journalist's toolkit." This week Ragan published Tribble's primer list, which includes: "It is a," "This is a," and "One of the." While these opening bids don't get points for creativity, Tribble sees them as a ski jump to the rest of the thought. "There is a usually introduces an 'existential statement' by the writer or story subject," and "One of the allows the writer to introduce striking, important, or controversial matters. 

Going nuc-u-lar: After Michelle Bachmann's recent fumble with the word "chutzpah," New York magazine's Daily Intel has put together a slideshow of prominent politicians mispronouncing words. From President Obama pronouncing "corpsman" as "corpse man" to Sarah Palin's love of the non-words "refudiate" and "verbage," these clips will give you a chance to feel superior over your elected officials in your knowledge of the English language -- and be glad that your every slip-up isn't broadcast on YouTube. 

Writing in the fast lane: When social media and blogging provide instant feedback to your writing, sometimes it can be hard to focus on a meatier project with a longer deadline. Business communication blogger Chris Brogan provides some useful insights into and coping strategies for this problem of "writing for the long haul" in his most recent post. While instant praise (or criticism) on the web can be as addictive as Ben & Jerry's, Brogan compares long-form writing to eating your vegetables -- you reap most of the rewards down the line. How do you keep your writing diet balanced?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Around the Word

Word nerds unite: The National Writers Union, which bills itself as "the only labor union that represents freelance writers," recently celebrated its 30th anniversary in Detroit. To mark the occasion, GalleyCat compiled a useful list (including contact information) of all the unions and guilds organizing the atomized workforce of writers. These organizations are designed to help writers around the country cope with shrinking pay scales, the health insurance crisis, and the crippling recession. Check out the list and let us know if there are any notable groups that have been left out.

A proper bibliographic burial: Every novelist hopes the book they  complete will find a comfortable resting place on bookstore shelves or But what, if anything, is to be done with the legions of unfinished literary works, which dwarf the number of published titles out there? Well thanks to Steve Wilson, a six-time failed novelist, there is now a suitable solution -- Wilson describes his site as "a place where your creative failures are welcome with open arms and a sprinkling if dignity." Each submitted novel gets its own digital grave site which includes a summary of the work, and excerpt, and a reason why the project was abandoned. Would you ever upload your work to such a site? 

Circling in on the creative uses of Google+: As a follow-up to our post on Google+ yesterday, author and professional puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal shares some advice for how to build a writer's hangout on Google+. "The goal with these hangouts is to have a little bit of socializing to break up the process of creation," she says. An easy way to get started is putting up a post saying you are planning to have a writing date at [X] time and specify the parameters. For example, you might chat every 15 minutes on the hour and if new people want to join they have to wait until the next break. "The advantage of the time method is that anyone joining after the start can look at the clock and know whether they are coming in during writing time or social time."

Tuning up your prose: If you are prone to describe a perfectly constructed sentence as music to ones ears, the analogy might not be that far off. Speech professor Peter Jeff has a neat post on the Six Minutes blog about the many lessons that speechwriters can learn from songwriters, suggesting that a number of tried and true tricks composers use -- triad, refrain, cadence, harmony, rhythm, rhyme, echo, and sound effects -- can make a speaker's words sing, too. For example triad, which in music is defined as three notes that make a chord, can be thought of in speechwriting as "... a group of three words or three phrases used together to increase memorability and impact with a rhythmic 1-2-3 beat." Think common phrases like "hook, line, and sinker" and "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Around the Word

Finished with freelancing? At one time or another most professional speechwriters wrestle with the tradeoffs between working in a corporate environment versus going solo. Our friend Cindy Starks recently went through this process, as she decided to trade the freelancers life to go back in-house, and she recently shared the insights she gained from this experience in an illuminating two-part series on her blog. Check it out when you can -- it's a worthwhile read for any writer-for-hire. And let us know if you have had similar choices to make and struggles to take. P.S. For those of you thinking about making the leap to freelancer, make sure to check out our seminar on the business of freelancing next Monday. 

Penguin takes the social media plunge: Penguin UK is dipping its flipper into the social media pool by launching a small-scale marketing experiment with social media site PeerIndex that we think bears watching by writers. PeerIndex measures social media users' level of "influence" -- mostly through number of Twitter follows, mentions and re-tweets -- and Penguin plans to distribute advanced copies of its newest book to the Internet's top opinion shapers. The new book, Hari Kunzru's Gods Without Men, will be sent to "influencers" on the topics of philosophy, science, politics, music, activism, India, America and science-fiction, reports paidContent. Though the project isn't getting much funding from the Penguin marketing team, the idea certainly has the potential to take off. Could Twitter's most powerful possibly usurp the book reviewer's role?

Book-ing your vacation: Most word nerds use vacation as an opportunity to spend some time with their nose in a book. But what about a whole vacation dedicated to reading? book reviewer Laura Miller explores the trend of "reading retreats," popular with everyone from British bibliophiles to billionaire Bill Gates, who takes two book breaks per year. From a solo (and silent) stay in an English monastery to a book club-style vacation in an Italian castle, reading retreats can take just about any form and fit any budget -- all you need is good light, a comfy chair and a well-stocked Kindle.

Life, and literature, is a beach: With vacation on the brain, Slate has taken a literal look at the term "beach read," replacing the usually fluffy genre books with their more literary beach brethren. Slate writers and editors picked out their favorite novels and short stories set on the beach and during summer vacation, from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Diamond as Big as the Ritz to Ernest Hemingway's The Garden of Eden. Though they may not be as zippy as your typical sand-covered thriller, these books are sure to satisfy your literary cravings as you work on your tan.

Productus marketus! With the last Harry Potter movie out on Friday, it seems just about everyone is thinking about how to cash in our favorite teenage wizard. One of the best meditations we have come across was on HubSpot's Internet marketing blog, which offers a handful of Hogwartian lessons for writers looking to get their creations more attention. So as you shell out $17 to see the last Potter installment in 3-D at midnight, think about what you can do to make your work as magically marketable.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Around the Word

Google+ a net plus for writers? If you have yet to get your Google+ invite, you might want to start hounding your friends -- especially if you have a new book to promote. GalleyCat reports this week that the new social networking site may soon make the necessarily evil author e-mail blast a thing of the past -- and make awareness-raising much easier. Google+ Circles enable you to create more useful groups to connect with readers by assigning every contact to a circle dependent on their relationship to you. "This new stream will allow you to share news about your book with an engaged readership," reporter Jason Boog advises, "but it will help you avoid passing news to people who don't want to know about your writing life." Try it out the next time you've got something new to promote and let us know how it works for you.

The serial comma survives (phew): Twitter was recently abuzz with news that the Oxford University Press changed their style guide and dropped their namesake, Oxford Comma. But it turns out this was a false grammar alarm. To find out how the linguistic hullabaloo started -- and get a little helpful historical context -- check out this informative post from our friend Grammar Girl.

These words will be music to your ears: In latest digital publishing news of note, eBookNewser reports that Cathedral Publishing has announced that their e-books will be a sanctuary for song as well as prose. Cathedral's new publishing platform, "Book IS the Store," allows authors to sell songs from within an e-book and is intended for self-published authors who might also be musicians. Specifically, authors can imbed songs into their e-book as a soundtrack and sell the songs as MP3s through links within the store. How do you feel about the merger, do the two belong side-by-side?

Novel summer fun: Looking for a fresh alternative to the usual run of summer fun (charades, Scrabble, backgammon, etc.)? The New York Times recently suggested trying out what might be called The Paperback Game, "best played in beach and lake houses and old inns, all of which tend to collect visitors' random and abandoned books." Any kind of books will do, but genre books (mysteries, romance, etc.) tend to be the most rewarding (re: entertaining.) Each player takes turns being the "picker," selects a book from the pile, and reads aloud the back cover copy. Everyone else then writes down what they discern a credible first line of the book might be. The "picker" transcribes the actual first line and the submissions are mixed and then unveiled. Each person then votes on what they think is the real first sentence. If someone votes for your bogus one, you get a point. If you select the real one, you get two points. Give it a shot and let us know if turn outs to be as fun as it sounds on paper.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Around the Word

Are e-readers killing the book-up? Freelance writer, playwright, and Brooklyn-ite Lisa Lewis speaks to/for many literary lovers this week with a playful, lighthearted complaint about how E-readers have destroyed her dating life. Writing on the New York Times' City Room blog, the 29-year-old NYU grad student argues that her golden pickup line, "I love that book," has become obsolete because we can no longer glance and see what people are reading on the subway, etc. For Lewis, checking out a book title isn't just a conversation starter, but a general indicator of future compatibility. "A man's literary taste can score as many points as being good with my parents or an ace in the kitchen," she quickly adds, "[Now] I am limited to those who peruse The New Yorker in print and I fear those days are numbered." Are e-readers crimping your style? 

Query karma: How's this for a payback payoff? John D. MacDonald received countless rejection letters before becoming the prolific and respected short-story writer and novelist we remember. Once he made it big, he decided to literally turn the tables on his literary tormentors and send out a sarcastic, form rejection letter to unsuccessful editors looking to acquire his work for their magazines.  Here's a brilliant opening snippet, brought to us courtesy of Letters of Note: "We would like to write a personal letter to each and every one of you, but the great mass of stories submitted from this office makes such a procedure impractical. Surely you can understand that!"

No need to be a baby about your bio: If there's one topic that most pro ghosts struggle with it's writing about themselves, and that trouble goes double for developing their own promotional materials.
Our favorite blogging agent, Rachelle Gardner, comes to the rescue this week with some smart tips on how to create a top-flight bio to put your best professional face forward. In particular, she focuses on how to present your bio in a query letter for fiction versus non-fiction, as well as what you should highlight if you have few, or no, publishing credits to list. Don't include too much extraneous resume-like information -- try to limit your educational background and previous work experience. Most important, she advises, "make it professional -- but you also need to convey personality and writing style. Don't try too hard to be funny, but include something that makes you seem like a real person." 

Meet the smorgas-book: Talk about crowd-sourcing -- this week saw the release of a new mystery novel, No Rest For The Dead, that was written collaboratively by 26 best-selling spine-tingling authors. Contributors included Daivid Baldacci, R.L. Stine, and Kathy Reichs. The book's premise centers around a detective who helped convict a woman of murdering her husband -- though 10 years later becomes convinced he got it wrong. Each writer was assigned a portion of the tale to flesh out-- without being told what came before or after. The idea for the book was the brainchild Andrew Gulli, who runs Strand Magazine and also edited the finished product. "If you add up the group of writers who have taken part in this book, you'll find they have sales in the hundreds of millions of books," says Gulli, "In the history of publishing nothing like this has ever occurred." All proceeds are to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, as both of his parents died of Cancer. 

"Doublethink" these writing tips: George Orwell is widely hailed as a pioneering thinker on the politics of language. But our friends at Daily Writing Tips argue this week that the rules of his seminal essay, Politics and the English Language, were made to be broken. Orwell, a devout socialist, witnessed the power of propaganda in writing and maintained a penchant for the clear and concise. His top six writing commandments include "never use a long word where a short one will do" and "never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech you are used to seeing in print." Among other counterpoints, Daily Writing Tips argues that not all figures of speech should be sent to the metaphor retirement home and some can be especially catchy when used in punny contexts. Take, for example, "A government agency turns over a new leaf about deforestation...." Be sure to check out all six of Orwell's writing commandments and let us know if you think they still ring true.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Around the Word

Hope everybody had a festive Fourth. Here's a few items of interest we found around the Word Wide Web over the holiday break.

ABC schools it's viewers: Christiane Amanpour is widely seen as a smart cookie, but it seems like her producers don't see her supposedly savvy Sunday morning viewers the same way. On this past weekend's show, Amanpour used the word "perspicacious" during an "extremely sophisticated and insightful debate on the importance of the Consititution," writes columnist Matt Schneider for Mediaite. ABC quickly threw up a graphic with a dictionary definition of the word, prompting Schneider to ask, "Were producers worried that the word would fly so far over their audience's head that needed to intervene as a public service?" What do you think? Is ABC trying to dumb down "This Week" or is it fair to assume that most people don't know what "perspicacious" means?

Best-seller blues: Pulitzer Prize-winning books columnist Michael Dirda rattled a few publishing industry cages recently with a recent rant against best-seller lists, arguing that they are "bad for readers, bad for publishing and bad for culture." Dirda points out that the same authors top the list month after month, leaving little space (and few publicity dollars) for break-out authors and experimental works. When James Patterson can reliably dominate the best-seller list, Dirda suggests, why take a risk on a new author? Dirda's proposed solution is to limit each author to one turn at the top, so instead of being a limited list of the same authors, it highlights the hottest new talent. Though this is unlikely to happen, Dirda implores readers to do what they can to "just say no to the insidious dominion of the best seller."

Re-tired phrases: Want a fresh perspective on the most trite phrases? Ask a poet. That's just what the organizers of the Ledbury Poetry Festival in the UK recently did, and their participants came back with a suitably creative list of their least-favorite cliched phrases. "Devastated" -- as in "I was devastated when my flight was cancelled" -- made the list twice, while other noxious notes included "literally," "LMAO," "thinking outside the box" and "the sky's the limit." Which tired words and phrases have you eliminated from your writing vocabulary?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Around the Word

The new age of agenting: Earlier this week we highlighted the news that Author that the Dystel & Goderich Literary Agency would be representing self-publishing authors as a sign of the e-volving times. Author Lee Goldberg uses his blog today to explore the broader implications of this new agent-ing model, which involves handling the management and business side of the publishing process in exchange for the same 15 percent commission. Among the natural questions: will this approach affect how hard agents will try and sell books to traditional publishers? Is this purely managerial role worth the same percentage of profits? What do you think? 

Did Hemingway get his mojo from mojitos? Flavorwire has a great summery slideshow up about famous authors and their drinks of choice, and just because many were bona-fide alcoholics doesn't make us want to emulate them any less. Hemingway beat the summertime heat by downing Mojitos, while William S. Burroughs kept it "super simple and super alcoholic" by choosing Vodka and coke. The slideshow also includes each writer's motto about alcohol. Our favorite comes courtesy of American poet Dorothy Parker with her cheeky quartet, "I wish I could drink like a lady/ I can take one or two at the most/ Three and I'm under the table/ Four and I'm under the host."

Public Speaking Protocol: Ever wonder how the public speakers we write for make their decisions about where and when to pontificate? Vital Speeches guru David Murray offers some helpful insight into this process through a recent conversation he had with C.C. Chapman, a prominent social media consultant and writer, about his criteria for accepting  speaking gigs. Chapman always requires that the conference pay his travel costs as well as his speaker's fee, though Murray gets him to admit he sometimes bends the rules and talks gratis. That may not be such a bad thing -- Murray advises the occasional freebie can more than pay for itself by widening your exposure and generating new business leads. Do you think Chapman's rules are broadly applicable? What kinds of arrangements tend to work for you?

"And the best speech is...": We just can't get enough of the Webby Awards' cheeky 5-word speeches. Last week we shared our friend Cindy Starks' speechwriter-centric review of the recent ceremonies. This week we offer another take of the highlights from Ragan. Our favorite from that batch was Jeopardy-playing supercomputer Watson, which accepted the Person of the Year award with this speech: "Person of the year, ironic."