Monday, August 29, 2011

Gone Fishing

The BloGG will be on hiatus this week, as we recover from the hurricane and get our last blast of summer in. We will be back wordier than ever after Labor Day. Until then, enjoy the sunshine.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Around the Word

Literary survival kit: As New Yorkers, we are more used to asking what to wear than how to prepare for hurricanes and earthquakes. So to help you in your disaster planning, and get you in the right mindset for Irene's arrival, the New Yorker has profiled six shorts to read during a hurricane -- a mix of essays, poems, short stories, and novels, by writers including Sylvia Plath, Joseph Conrad, and Jack Kerouac.

Now that's a moving speech: Of all the funny tweets and stories we have seen in the wake of this week's East Coast quake, our favorite was this one relayed by our friend David Murray at Vital Speeches from freelance scribe Emerson Moran. "At 1:49 p.m. client texted me from DC that her speech received a standing ovation," Moran posted on Facebook. "Earthquake hit at 1:51. You do the math... my rates are going up.'"

Winning one-liners: The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world, is in full swing, and one of our favorite events is the quick-fire joke competition. This year's winner was comedian Nick Helm, who came up with this enchanting nugget on the spot: "I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." The runner-up was previous champion, Tim Vine, for this rib-tickler: "Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many levels." Veteran entertainer Paul Daniels took home the honor for the worst joke of the competition with this doozy: "I said to a fella 'Is there a B&Q in Henley?' He said 'No there's an H an E an L and N and a Y.'" For a list of the Top 10 jokes, check out this write-up of the funny festivities in the Daily Mail.

Speaking of funny contests. . . . We're always eager to clue you in on upcoming literary events and competitions, but we especially like to plug one of our own. In memory of his late mother, Brad Schreiber has created the Mona Schreiber Prize for Humorous Fiction and Non-Fiction. Mona Schreiber taught creative writing for San Mateo County and published numerous humorous articles and essays in newspapers and magazines. The contest, currently in its 11th year, challenges participants to submit humorous, double-spaced works up to 750 characters in length. "Writers of comedic essays, articles, short stories, poetry, shopping lists, ransom notes, and other forms are invited to submit." There is a $500 prize for 1st place, $250 for 2nd, and $100 for 3rd. We encourage anyone with an unorthodox sense of humor to participate and help Brad keep his mother's memory alive. For more info, go to Brad's website.

A new take on old PowerPoint rules: Gotham friend Brad Phillips has a smart new post on Ragan challenging a number of shibboleths about PowerPoint use including the Holy Grail of rules: "One slide per minute." The problem with that standard, Phillips argues, is that it "says nothing about how much information should appear on a slide. . . Since [speakers] present only one slide per minute, they deceive themselves into thinking they've produced a good presentation when, in fact, they've only created a cluttered mess." Additionally, looking at 60 slides a hour can be quite tiring for audiences -- "If I wanted to be put to sleep I'd take an Ambien or watch a PBS documentary," Phillips says. So what's a presenter to do? Phillips suggests reinforcing your point with images instead of a laundry list of bullet points, checking to see whether each new slide reinforces the concept, and determining whether there's a more compelling -- less electronically dependent way -- for you to deliver your message.

Worth tweeting: The Huffington Post reports that Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, the most popular in the United States, has added dozens of entries for the first time since 2009. "Social media" and "tweet," terms whose addition is reflective of the continuous evolution in our era's communications, are just two of 150 new words gracing the pages. Additions also include "bromance," "helicopter parent," and "robocall." The standard-settings at M-W are said to pick new entries after monitoring their use for several years and tallying their prevalence in mainstream and media outlets. Peter Sokolowski, Merriam's editor at large, explains: "Even if people had no interest or possible chance of getting a twitter themselves, they now have to know what 'tweet' means, and that's why it's in the dictionary."

Sexist summer reading? President Obama recently released his summer reading list, and his gender-imbalanced selections have some critics asking why he doesn't read more women. His latest list is about 70% male and an analysis of all books he's mentioned since becoming President in 2008 is a 23-to-1 blowout in favor of men. "It is a well know fact among those of us to whom this matters that while women read books written by men, men do not tend to reciprocate," writes Salon columnist Robin Black. While Black acknowledges that Obama probably isn't trying to endorse or perpetuate this trend, she does suggest he pay a bit more attention to his behavior -- ". . . . especially as a father of daughters who might enjoy and even be inspired by seeing their father cart around a book with a woman's name writ large." What do you think? Fair game? Or overblown carping?

iContact: If you've ever wondered just how important making eye contact is while public speaking, then you might want to check out the latest post from the Eloquent Woman for the rationale behind the axiom. Turns out eye contact is all it's cracked up to be, and research shows that looking away from your audience signals avoidance while looking at them signals approach, the latter which audiences rate highly. Eye contact, though, must be used wisely and well, EW advises. For example, be sure to look at all sections of the room as well as directly at individuals. Plan ahead for cultural concerns, as certain non-western cultures in particular, can find prolonged contact provocative, and remember, video practice makes perfect. "Like any form of gesturing--and that's what moving eyes are-- you need to have intentional, rather than unintentional moves. Even the simplest video camera can help you see what others see -- before your speech."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Obama Speech Wars, Continued

In case you missed it, last week Vital Speeches guru David Murray took to the Huffington Post to issue a fairly stern finger-wagging to the all the PR and speech pros who are second-guessing President Obama's communication skills these days -- "Knock It Off" read the headline. Murray was quick to acknowledge that Obama has made some serious mistakes. But he warned against the limits and dangers of a common corrective many critics are prescribing, a major address to re-set the story of his presidency, along the lines of Jimmy Carter's infamous "Malaise Speech."
We can argue over the drinking table about how Obama should have framed his presidency at the outset. But I'm afraid that the only way he can play once-upon-a-time at this late stage is if there's a shocking disaster -- financial, natural or ballistic -- that's profound and terrifying enough to make Americans really willing to sit like children and hear a simple story of true heroes, real villains and the proverbial but elusive "story we can all believe in."
Well, it didn't take long for the piling on to resume -- most notably with a piece by former Clinton speechwriter and current West Wing Writers principal Jeff Shesol that ran earlier this week on the Daily Beast, under the headline Obama Needs a New Tune. Shesol's main argument is that Obama's post-partisan message, which resonated so well during the 2008 campaign and still ostensibly polls well in a vacuum, is ill-suited to this hyper-partisan moment.
. . . . Obama’s renewed campaign against partisanship serves mainly to remind us of one of our, and no doubt his, greatest disappointments: the ugly immutability of Washington, and the Republicans’ stubborn refusal to listen to reason. As an opening argument for his reelection, the president can do better than “put country ahead of party.” Not only is it a weak, vain hope, it is a fundamental misreading of what’s wrong with Washington. To paraphrase, this time, Michael Dukakis (something I do against my better judgment), this election is not about partisanship. It’s about ideology.
With that in mind, Shesol said, it's high time for Obama to choose sides -- not with a Malaise redux, but a more consistent differentiation. "[He] does not need to become a fire-breathing, populist parody of Franklin Roosevelt, as some left-leaning critics suggest. But to win a second term he has to sharpen the contrast, if not his rhetoric. He has to make it unmistakably clear that the Republican Party’s 'game' -- its endgame -- is not just to win the next election, but to undo much of the progress of the past century, and to rewrite some of our most cherished, basic assumptions about what it means to be an American. Then he needs to tell us what he plans to do about it."

Okay, speech pros: Which side do you come down on? Is there too much carping about the President's messaging? Or not enough edge/clarity/consistency to it?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Around the Word (Catch-up Edition)

Now that we are out of our earthquake crouch, we can resume our regular word-nerd programming. Here's a quick catch-up of the stories we've been following on the Word Wide Web the last few days.

You are what you read: How many times have you heard someone you know say a favorite book changed their life? Well, a new study out of Canada suggests that old chestnut may be more true than we know. According to Quill and Quire, Canada's premiere literary news magazine, a group of researchers at the University of Toronto found that reading fiction can alter people's personalities -- and arm them with better social skills than non-readers. The study randomly assigned participants 1 of 2 versions of a short story; one full and the other merely containing abbreviated plot points. "We found the people who read the [whole] story changed a bit in their personality," said lead researcher Keith Oatley. "What we found interesting was that they all changed in different ways." Does this ring true with you?

Pronunciation for Dummies: If you are like most wordsmiths, and spending more time writing than reciting, your pronunciation skills can get a little rusty. The New Yorker's Book Bench turned us onto a great way to flex those atrophied verbal muscles -- the Pronunciation Book on You Tube. This channel features a male speaker with a clear, easy-listening voice breaking down and sounding out a range of tricky words. For example: "When a conversation about poetry moves from Romanticism to Modernism, you'd hate to be the one who draws a distinction between Keats and Yeats, but mistakes them for a rhyming pair." Do you have any pro pronunciation tips to help avoid spoken faux pas?

Please, watch your pronouns: We're all taught to mind our manners, but according to psychologist James Pennebaker, we should be focusing on our pronouns too -- for they reveal the most about us. Our friend the Eloquent Woman recently posted a summary of Pennebaker's most interesting findings on the most personal of usages, some of which challenged conventional assumptions. "Most people assume that men use I-words and cognitive words more than women, and that women use we-words, emotions and social words more then men," EW wrote. "Bad news. You were right if you guessed that women use social words more. However, women use I-words and cognitive words at far higher rates than men." We're also offered some insight on how pronouns are used by those in power. Turns out that leaders tend to use them less, but underlings can't get enough of "I," "me," and "mine." If you want to learn more about the hidden messages your pronouns are sending, you can pick up Pennebaker's book, The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us.

How to turn PDFs into PDQs: Are you having trouble tracking and reading all the varied PDFs -- manuscripts, articles, editorial letters -- littering your desktop? We came across a neat tool, courtesy of eBookNewser, that can offer you some iRelief. This simple tutorial will show you how to cleanly convert your abundance of documents from different platforms into streamlined Kindle or epub files. "Our tutorial also includes a simple introduction to coding so you can scrub out frustrating headers, page numbers, or other stray bits of code that make your converted PDF hard to read." Try it out and let us know how it works.

Financials of the trade: If you are curious about what different literary jobs pay, you may want to consult Glassdoor, the anonymous job site, to get a sense of the landscape. Our friends at GalleyCat did a quick survey this week, and found that New York area book designers make about $58,924 on average, editors around $53,500 and publicists trail below at $37,093 a year. Do these numbers track with your experience?

One small step for authorkind: Also from GalleyCat, we learned of a rather novel partnership between NASA and Tor/Forge publishers. Now that the space program has gone on hiatus, NASA's scientists have agreed to assist Tor/Forge authors at a two day workshop at GFSC in November, where they will provide access to the agency's data and design elements. The program's immediate goal is to aid in the development of more "scientifically accurate and entertaining novels," though ultimately NASA hopes the program will encourage more students to follow science, math, and technology tracks in school.

Trim the fat off your kids' reading: The Los Angeles Times this week keyed us into a raging debate about a soon-to-be-released diet book targeted at girls between the ages of 6 and 12. The picture book, Maggie Goes on a Diet, by author and self-publisher Paul M. Kramer, is written in rhyme and chronicles Maggie's decision to lose weight after kids at school called her "fatty" and "chubby." Though Maggie loses weight the healthy way, cutting back on junk food and allowing herself one "normal-sized treat a week," critics contend that the book sends the disturbing message that being thin will make you happy.  One blogger commented, "Little girls shouldn't even know what a diet is, much less be encouraged to lose weight." In an interview Kramer commented that he wasn't advocating any little girl go on a diet, though he quickly rescinded the statement, acknowledging just seconds later that ..." Maggie did indeed go on a diet, as the title of the book clearly indicates." Despite the controversy Amazon still plans to offer the book, which should be available in October.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Around the Word

Decoding hipster speak: Like the Beatniks and punks before them, the hipsters who haunt urban culture these days have developed their very own exclusive lingo. If you'd like to get keyed into what those indie kids in Williamsburg and West Hollywood are saying, or harness some of that hipster cool for your own use, check out Hipster Ipsum, a cheeky new translation website. Particularly useful for those who'd like to write about hipster culture but don't speak the language, Hipster Ipsum will automatically generate content -- or as HI says, "artisinal filler text for your site or project." Take, for example, a small excerpt from the jargon it created for GalleyCat: "Beard lo-fi cred, yr scenester art party vinyl put a bird on it. Farm-to-table 3 wolf moon locavore, wayfarers portland carles high life leggings tumblr." Feel younger yet?

Freelancer legal loss: If times weren't tough enough for freelance writers. . . . A federal appeals court in New York this week overturned a major judgment that a group of freelancers won against The New York Times, Reed Elsevier, and others for copyright infringement. The writers -- who claimed that publishers violated their copyright by electronically reproducing and posting their work -- were originally awarded a settlement of up to $18 million. But according to Bloomberg News, the Second Circuit rejected that ruling on similar standing grounds as the recent discrimination case brought against Walmart. "We conclude that the district court abused its discretion in certifying the class and approving the settlement, because the named plaintiffs failed to adequately represent the interests of all class members,” the opinion said.

All the snooze that's fit to print: For all you speech junkies who just can't get enough of Bernie Sanders' infamous 8-1/2 hour stemwinder on the Senate floor last year, we have good news. The Independent from Vermont is publishing a book with the full text of the speech -- a fillibuster decrying Obama's deal with Republicans to preserve the Bush-era tax cuts -- along with an original introduction. If the book (economically entitled The Speech) seems a little too daunting, you can watch Sanders talk about his protest rant and respond to questions in a segment from C-SPAN Book TV -- a cool one hour in itself.

Give your prose a voice-over: You can't swing a live speech coach these days without getting some tips for gearing your writing for the spoken word. But ever wonder what benefits flow in the other direction? In a meaty piece this week, Ragan's Russell Working illustrates a number of ways that stepping up to the podium can held improve the wordsmithing of even the most seasoned writers. Toastmaster International members graciously shared some of their takeaways from public speaking group events -- such as, read your work aloud, solicit criticism, be concise, and count your "uhs" and "ums." You'd be surprised how many awkward sentences and typos you can find by running your writing through your vocal chords and reading aloud is also a cost-effective way to beta test new material. Be sure to check out the full list of tips and let us know if there's anything you think they missed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Around the Word

Pandora's books: Surfing the web for a good book recommendation? A new site is attempting to do for books what Pandora did for music, giving specific recommendations based on books you already like. BookLamp uses your favorite book's "DNA" to make suggestions for other reads. It measures characteristics and themes (for example: history, travel, secrets) as well as writing style (like pacing, dialogue and density). There are only about 20,000 books on the site, according to Mashable, but BookLamp is looking to expand. Check it out and let us know what you think. Is BookLamp lighting your literary fire?

The Comedy of Borders: When Borders shuttered last month there was much hand-wringing in the publishing world about how to save brick-and-mortar bookstores. Apparently, those looking for a solution should have just asked Jon Stewart and Daily Show resident expert John Hodgman, who mocked the state of modern book selling in a segment last night. Hodgman suggested that bookstores can beat out Amazon by catering to lazy shoppers who don't even like to read. He advised nixing bookshelves and instead installing "downloading pods" to mimic the at-home shopping experience, "with the inconvenience of a twenty minute car ride." The other option: preserve a Borders as a historical relic, like colonial Williamsburg, called "Ye Olde Borders-Towne." Why didn't we think of that?

Compound controversy: When the subject of your sentence is two words joined by "and," sometimes things can get a little dicey in the singular-plural department. This week Grammar Girl comes to rescue, offering a quick refresher on whether "milk and cookies are delicious" or "peanut butter and jelly is the best sandwich." Check it out and let us know if you are in full agreement with GG's latest quick and dirty tips.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Around the Word

Special agents: Literary agents are often cited as a likely casualty of the publishing e-volution. After all, if you can print, publish and market your book with just a laptop and an Internet connection, why would you need to hire someone to rep you? But Mark Coker, founder of the indie e-book publishing service Smashwords, says don't write off the agent just yet. In an eye-catching, man-bites-dog piece he recently posted on his company blog, Coker argues that these literary sherpas will actually be instrumental in shaping the digital future. The rise of indie e-books and self-publishing gives agents the opportunity to take a chance on a work they feel strongly about, Coker says, instead of only picking up authors guaranteed to score with traditional publisher. So, fellow writers, do you see an agent as part of your digital future? (h/t GalleyCat)

The first rule of Write Club is. . . .: From the first time we were asked to put pen to paper in elementary school, we've been learning the rules of writing: no passive voice, skip the adverbs, show-don't-tell. But sometimes too much focus on writing rules can stifle creativity and distract from your writing process. If you're feeling bogged down by do's and don'ts, check out our friend Rachelle Gardner's recent post on rethinking the typical typist's conventions. Her advice: "Whenever you get frustrated by the rules, or can't figure out why or if you should follow a rule or break it, go back to the reasons behind the rules and ask yourself: Does following this rule strengthen my work?"

Character-in-Chief: Though most real-life newspaper editors are no longer the chain-smoking, suspender-wearing, verbally abusive characters of yesteryear, the occasional hard-boiled editor archetype still makes an appearance in a modern play or movie. In fact, there seems to be a rash of bombastic editors in recent theater productions, including J. Jonah Jameson in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." For a history of the on-stage editor, and a peek into whether any Times editors resemble their fictional counterparts, take a look at this Sunday New York Times survey of the tough editor character through the years.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Around the Word

The best of TED: We love that TEDTalks have brought high-quality public speaking and thought leadership to anyone with an Internet connection. There have been some great speeches to come out of TED, but with so many talks available online, it can be hard to choose which ones to watch. Fortunately, our friend David Murray at Vital Speeches of the Day pointed us to a list of the top twenty most-viewed TEDTalks. TED tracked the over 500 million views for TEDTalks and to see which are the most popular. At the top is Sir Ken Robinson's speech on how schools kill creativity. But, as Murray pointed out, a speech about what you don't know about orgasms was surprisingly only seventeenth.

Keep your bookmarks handy: Who says that the Internet and books have to be mortal enemies? Over at Flavorpill, they see tech-loving bibliophiles reading and Internet-ing in perfect harmony, so they've put together a list of the best new websites for bookworms. From aggregators that search the web for the best journalism and creative nonfiction (, to sites that highlight indie publishers and lesser-known authors (Very Short List, Full Stop), these websites are guaranteed to fill up your reading list. And when you don't have your nose in a book, you can always check out the slightly wacky Better Book Titles, which gives famous works more descriptive names.

Tweet Club: For more literary Internet goodness, the Huffington Post has provided a list of famous authors who are on Twitter. Though you might never have expected to follow Chuck Palahniuk's 140-character thoughts when you first picked up Fight Club, he and his fellow writing Twilebrities -- like Judy Blume, Kevin Smokler and Augusten Burroughs -- offer witty commentary, thoughts on life and tips and inspiration for fellow writers. Which of your favorite authors would you like to see on Twitter?

The biblio Tower of Babel: Finding your house or apartment overcrowded with books is enough to drive anyone to buy an e-reader, but a visual artist in Buenos Aires has taken towering stacks and book-hoarding to a new level. Marta Minujin built a seven-story sculpture out of books, reaching over 80 feet high. The sculpture was built to celebrate Buenos Aires's status as the 2011 book capital of the world, and when it was dismantled some of the books were given away to visitors. Check out a photo of the towering book tower at the Utne Reader.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Around the Word

Today we zero in on how to stay focused, motivated, and positive when you write. 

Book project boot camp: The lazy days of summer are filled with excuses to not start a project. The weather is nice, the kids are at home and sometimes it is just too hot to think, let alone write. If you're lacking the giddy-up to get your book going, writing pro and no-nonsense blogger Chris Brogan might have the inspiration you need. In the first two posts of a four part series on book writing, Brogan shuts down the excuses we all use not to write. He encourages writers to find the time and the discipline to make their book project happen with tips for maintaining focus and reaching word-count goals. How do you stay motivated during the dog days?

Digital quiet car: Sometimes, all the discipline in the world isn't enough to stay focused when the Internet readily available for distraction. Fortunately, there are a host of tools for keeping you on-task while writing. One new online service, Quietwrite, offers a distraction-free site to write. Free of spell-check, buttons, icons and links, Quietwrite auto-saves while you work so all you have to do is type. What do you do to keep out digital distractions? (h/t GalleyCat)

Don't fear the tangent: When your efforts to focus fall short, Darren Rowse, founder of Problogger, suggests embracing the mental tangents your mind takes. Sometimes, your writing follows a winding road that ends in a place you never expected to be. When you find yourself off-course, you can leave in the tangent, delete it or use it as a springboard for a new piece. Rowse advises, "Look for parts of the post where you could have said more, where ideas weren't complete finished, or where you think the reader might have been left asking questions." Those are the places, he says, where you can find your next big idea.

Fast and furious: For those of you who struggle with the slows year round, you might want to check out this piece from Slate writer Michael Agger. Frustrated with his pokey progress next to his speedier colleagues, Agger decided to delve into the psychology of writing at lightning speed and understand why some writers are much quicker than others. The literature finds that writing is a very cognitively challenging activity, and that the fastest writers have, unsurprisingly, practiced. . . . a lot. Writing in regular bursts, at a set time every day, in a non-stimulating environment helps you stay focused, Agger says, and lets the words fly onto the page. Reading and listening to feedback from your audience helps, too. 

In praise of the copy editor: Once all the mental hurdles have been cleared and the words have somehow made their way to the page, your pysche will still have to go through the wringer of the editing process. Seeing those red marks all over your work can be a humbling experience for even the most seasoned writer. Just ask author Elizabeth Fama. On the Subversive Copy Editor this week, she penned a cheeky first-person account about getting her manuscript back from an editor that many pros will identify with. Too many em dashes, mistakenly compound words and flagrant comma abuse were all problems she never knew she had until a talented copy editor took a look at her prose. "Hoo boy am I ever grateful for your edits," she writes to her editor. "I feel honored to have someone out there watching my back so carefully." Have you thanked your copy editor today?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Around the Word

From gloom to boom?: A brand new statistical analysis of U.S. book sales released this week suggests the sky may not be falling on the publishing industry. BookStats, which claims in a press release to be "the deepest, most comprehensive statistical survey ever conducted of the modern, U.S. publishing industry," found that net revenues and units sold are both up over the last three years -- and that's not counting the e-book surge this year. To get a fuller breakdown of the numbers, check out the analysis at Publishers Marketplace. Do these macro stats comport with what you're seeing on the ground day-to-day?

Movies for book lovers: It's National Book Lovers Day today, and Flavorpill is helping us celebrate with a list of the best movies about books and writers. Though watching a movie to celebrate a love of books is admittedly a little illogical, these movies have so many neurotic writers that you will feel gleefully sane by comparison. So sit back, relax and celebrate your inner bibliophile with films like Wonder Boys, Capote and Adaptation.

Style guidance, Part II: Earlier this week we examined the question of style guides for social media, and the expert we advice we relayed was that each host should have their own clear, consistent set of rules. The next day Ragan honed in on the particular style challenge facing businesses, and the experts they consulted came to the same conclusion -- your best bet is a customized, in-house style guide for your specific company. What system do you use for keeping your shop's writing in style?

Authors who make house calls: With publishing budgets shrinking, authors are often left to to market their books on their own. Since organizing and scheduling a book tour can seem hopelessly daunting, GalleyCat is offering to help by connecting authors with book clubs who want to meet them. The online database -- Authors Who Visit Book Clubs -- enables clubs to contact their favorite authors and ask them to visit. If you want to be added to the list of authors who are willing to chat about your book, fill out the form on GalleyCat's Facebook page.

The price is wrong? As we've noted before, e-books have created some tricky pricing conundrums. Though the digital product may cost less to produce than a hard copy, the time and money that goes in to writing the book stays the same. So why does the cost vary so widely? In his soon-to-be released book, Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back, author Robert Levine spends a whole chapter on the publishing industry, investigating what determines the price of books. For a look at his argument, check out the review in the Guardian's book blog. Spoiler alert: Amazon may be the bad guy. (h/t GalleyCat)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Around the Word

Social style: Social media is a lot like the Wild West -- it's fast-paced, messy and people often shoot before they think. Nowhere is that more true than in the space-crunched Twittersphere, where even writers and journalistic sticklers break old-line grammar and spelling rules with the best of them. Is there room then in this new universe for a style guide? Blogger and writing pro Whitney Jones recently posted a great meditation on the subject that offers several helpful tips on how to socialize with grace and clarity. Though the AP did come out with its own list of rules for tweeting and status-updating, Jones recommends creating a clean, consistent style that matches the tone of your business or publication. How do you keep your social style consistent? (h/t Ragan)

Ghosts of heroes past: Jason Bourne and James Bond are protagonists that launched a thousand franchises -- books, movies, video games and now, more books. Though the authors who originally dreamed up these characters are deceased, a particular breed of ghostwriter, the "continuator," has taken up the literary torch to keep these characters alive. As found, these ghosts use the characters and story of the previous author, but often write under their own name. To see some continuators at work, and to find out where these beloved action heroes are headed, look for new novels in the months ahead starring Bourne, Bond, Mike Hammer and Sherlock Holmes.

The latest word purge: As our readers know, we here at the BloGG always welcome a good kvetch session about bad writing. We've targeted vampire words and writing pet peeves, and now this week we're giving corporate copy some extra red pen attention, courtesy of corporate communications cop
Lindsey McCaffrey. Fed up with all the goofy buzzwords and clunky cliches that have infested business writing these days, she compiled a list of the ten most obnoxious terms that should be purged from corporate speak -- starting with grating jargon like "incentivize" and "impactful." What are your least favorite corporate cliches? (h/t Ragan)

iPaperback: Feeling guilty about cheating on your book collection with your mobile device? Thanks to a new line of iPhone cases from Speck, you can now read an e-book on a phone that at least looks like a real book. These cool vintage-looking covers feature titles that would warm any literate hipster's heart, like The Catcher in the Rye, A Clockwork Orange and The Great Gatsby. These covers seem like a fun way to pay homage to your favorite novel, though we probably wouldn't want to be the guy with a phone that looks like Lolita. (via the Wall Street Journal)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Around the Word

Hashtag heaven: One of the features we love about Twitter is the hashtag, a conversational marker that organizes a discussion and lets you follow it throughout the network. The writing community, being the creative folk that we are, has come up with a slew of helpful hashtags to facilitate discussion about writing, offer encouragement to fellow wordsmiths, and connect with like-minded people. To get a sense of what's trending, this week Publishing Talk Daily assembled a list of the Top 10 tags for writers, from the popular #amwriting to the helpful #askagent. Which hashtags do you use when tweeting about writing?

All the words that's fit to define: The New York Times may be the standard-bearer for American journalism, but sometimes the writers over at the Gray Lady throw in a word that is more comfortable in an SAT-prep class than a newspaper article. For those occasions, the New York Times has a handy "look up" feature that allows a reader to immediately find the definition of a word they don't know. The Times has been tracking which words are looked up the most, and the Nieman Journalism Lab has analyzed this year's results. The most popular are mostly negative, with words like "omerta," "duplicity" and "dyspeptic" making the list. For our word nerd friends out there, the number one looked-up word this year was "panegyric."

Another self-publishing star: Another day, another sweet deal for a self-publishing Cinderalla. The latest e-volutionary sucess story is Louise Voss, whose novel Catch Your Death sold big in the Kindle UK store after being rejected by many traditional publishing houses. All the reader love resulted in a six-figure, four book contract from HarperFiction, reports the London Evening Standard (h/t GalleyCat). Is this trend ready to hit critical mass market?

Vital video links: We wanted to pass along two video gems from our friend David Murray at Vital Speeches of the Day. In the first, Murray gives us an inside look at the latest iteration of the famous Bughouse Square debates in Chicago, an annual event that "pays homage to the early-to-mid 20th century tradition of quirky (and often cranky) public soap-box opining." For a more traditional view of speechifying history, Murray suggests a trip to the American Rhetoric's Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century page, which gives mp3 files and transcripts of some of history's greatest oratory. Take a look at the list and let us know which speeches inspire you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Around the Word

Top books on books: According to Stephen King, "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." It won't hurt to read a lot about the lessons others have learned from writing a lot, either. With that in mind, editor and writing guru Jon Winokur surveyed the writing canon and compiled a handy list of the ten best books for writers for the Huffington Post. From Strunk and White to Anne Lamott, these books have all the advice you need to brush up on your grammar, tweak your narrative and find your inspiration. 

I, Chatbot: For us solitary writer types, the Internet has become both a lifeline of connection and an infinite source of ways to waste time. Maybe the perfect embodiment of both of those facets is the rise of the chatbot -- artificial intelligence programs that simulate human conversation. The website Slackstory, which bills itself as the premier time-wasting place online, thought it would be fun to test how life-like these chatter bots are by giving the three most popular programs the famous Proust questionnaire (popularized by Vanity Fair) as a test of their worldview. Humorous, egotistical and sometimes very cryptic, these artificially intelligent chatters are certainly entertaining, if a little creepy (h/t GalleyCat).

Tax-free reading: Being an e-book buyer in the Empire State just got a little bit sweeter. Forbes took a look at the newest round of New York tax codes and found that e-books are exempt from sales tax. The logic behind the law is that e-books don't constitute "tangible personal property" and therefore can't be taxed. So when you buy your digital copy of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," you can take that extra 4 percent you saved all the way to the bank. 

Ear and Loathing in Las Vegas: #bookswithalettermissing is the newest Twitter trend for literary types, and we know our writers have the creativity to come up with some fantastic titles. Check out the trending stream and send us your ideas (@GothamGhosts) with the hashtag. We'll retweet our favorites.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Around the Word

Author, writer, Twitterer: We've all heard how important it is for writers to utilize social media in order to build a platform for their work. But can a writer really go from Kickstarter to bestseller at the speed of broadband? Well, you might be pleasantly surprised. Yesterday Mashable featured several encouraging success stories from authors who have leveraged social media networks into tangible reader results. From a young adult novel that has topped Amazon's charts before it's even published, to a self-published writer who utilized her blog following to pump up interest in her book, these social media auteurs will inspire you to get out there and tweet your heart out.

More media marketing insights: One of the best features of social media we have found is what might be called crowd learning -- where writers use online forums to share their experiences and inform their peers. Our friend Rachelle Gardner this week tapped into this potential by asking her clients to write blog posts on what lessons they have learned from marketing their own books. From first time writers to seasoned novelists, she's assembled over thirty posts from authors full of marketing wisdom. How do these match up with your experiences? We welcome you to share your tips too. 

Club kids: With the end of Oprah's book club and the shuttering of Borders, it may seem that popular fiction, and the book clubs that discuss it, could be in danger. But, as a recent article in Slate argues, the American book club is still going strong. The book club has a long history in the United States, starting as an intellectual outlet for women and transforming into an escape from the strains of modern life for Americans from every demographic. Check out the article for a fascinating history of the book club, and to understand our society's enduring love affair communal reading.

Breaking News. . . Some people still like to read: When formatting their magazines for the iPad, Conde Nast expected a high-tech, youth-friendly magazine like Wired to sell the most apps. But, as the New York Times reported over the weekend, it is the decidedly low-tech New Yorker that has taken the iPad by storm. With few interactive features and lots of text, it appears that a surprising number of people with iPads are buying the New Yorker and actually using their tablets to read. "I think there is a really large dynamic of people who are interested in reading, actually reading, on an iPad," said industry analyst Andrew Lipsman in the article. Who would have thought?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Around the Word

Crowdfunding success story: We wrote last week about the trouble with Unbound, a crowdfunding service specifically designed for books that seems to be struggling to meets its users' needs. But, as author and tech expert Paul Simon explained in a recent post on Men With Pens, crowdfunding books can still work with the right project. Simon decided to go rogue and self-publish his fourth book, raising all the money he needed on Kickstarter and producing a quality book in record time. We want to hear your crowdfunding stories. Has Kickstarter jump-started any of your book projects? 

Chartbeat to the rescue: Though technology and publishing are often characterized as mortal enemies, one tech company aims to use Internet traffic data to help save the written word. Chartbeat, with its tracking program Newsbeat, helps online media outlets chart and graph every click, view and interaction on their website. Though many worry that this will create a "race to the bottom" with content -- think photo galleries of kittens and stories about Lady Gaga -- Chartbeat has found that sites often discover their readers are more sophisticated than they had thought. Also, Gigaom reports that many editors like that they can have instant feedback on the effectiveness of a headline or story. What do you think about editors working as traffic-watchers? Is this just the next step in the e-volution of media?

Compound interest: In our world of smartphones, websites and Facebook, compound words are all the techno-rage. But for the meticulous writer or editor, these verbal mashups can often drive you to distraction, forcing a detour down style guide lane, only to find disagreements -- if it's there at all. So how do you know when to compound and when to separate? Ragan took a look at some of the trickiest two-for-one words, like "login," "health care," and the persistent, if generally incorrect, "alright," and offered some much-needed clarity to this vexing challenge. Which compound words do you find confounding? 

World Book Night goes global: This past March saw the world's first World Book Night, a project in the UK that gave away one million books. In 2012, World Book Night will head across the pond to the U.S. The charity plans to give away one million books to Americans next year, reports Publishing Perspectives. The aim of their project is "to celebrate books and connect readers to one another." Twenty-five lucky books will be chosen. You can go online to nominate your favorite title.