Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mindless Advertising

The article to the left really nails Wal-Mart's practice of discriminating against women (and others) to the wall. (Click here to read it.)

The box bordered in red is a segment of the same Web page's "sponsored links."

I ask you: how many people are going to read the condemnation of Wal-Mart and scramble for a chance to work for the company? How much is this like a series of Ford Motor Company sponsoring a documentary about the people killed by Pinto gas tank explosions? (And is a Web site really going to lead you to a job at Wal-Mart that pays fifty-six dollars per hour?)

In other words, how useful is mindless linking?

Has Blogging Peaked?

A recent piece on blogging in the Christian Science Monitor asks if blogging is on the decline. See the article for my views.

(Check out Blogging Heroes, too.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Three Things that May Look Weird in a Novel Submission

Having your friend, cousin, or partner disguise themselves as an agent to submit your work. It’s very easy for an editor to learn that Eldred “Slick” Bitsko isn’t an agent--especially when he has no other clients, let alone a track record. To some editors, this might imply that the trappings of publishing (“my agent”) are more important to you than the quality of your work.

Explaining in your cover letter how your last novel really was great, but “my publisher, Simter & Schuson, screwed up the marketing, and that disappointed me.” The editor isn’t trying to decide whether to buy your last novel. This is the sort of thing you might discuss with an editor once you’ve established a working relationship, but it adds nothing to the current submission.

Your name is Beldon of Atvar, but when the editor pops up the Document Properties dialog box in Word to get a word count (because you didn’t provide it), the name in the Author field is “Becky Lee Treversole” (your old girlfriend, who let you copy MS Office). Or maybe “US Robots & Mechanical Men” (your employer, who has no idea that you’re writing a novel on company time).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Unrestrained Journalism

Yesterday (April 14) I was interviewed by an Australian broadcaster in connection with Blogging Heroes. It happened that the evening before I had seen an interview with Ted Koppel on BBC's American service. (Yes, he left Nightline for the Discovery Channel and the BBC.) The subject of the discussion was blogging--specifically, the legitimacy of news from blogs.

As expected, Koppel came out supporting mainstream media as superior to blogs. He didn't mount an attack on blogging, but he did make one good point, which I brought out during my interview. The big difference between conventional news media and blogs can be found in the fact that most blogs do not vet their news. It is true, of course, that non-vetted items make it through to newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV broadcasts. But blogs tend to go with far less verification than mainstream media. And "citizen journalists" often don't have the background necessary to see the story behind the story.

This being the state of things, it is a wise course to verify news with multiple sources. But that applies not just to blogs, but mainstream media, as well. Mainstream sources are known to to slant coverage and omit facts, which is sometimes more dangerous than getting the story wrong.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Apostrophes + Homonyms = Confusion

Misuses in writing that involve apostrophes (or the lack thereof) scream for attention, especially to editors. Oddly enough, most involve homonyms—words that sound the same but have different spellings.

Consider "I really like you're poem," for example. Or, "Its really tough to know which word to use."

The error of using "you're" for "your" is often committed in the heat of writing, in part because the words are homonyms. They sound the same, and the part of the brain that processes words to text sometimes just sends the first word that sounds right to your fingers. To complicate matters, when you reread what you’ve written there’s a good chance you’ll see "your" where you wrote "you're" (or vice-versa).

You may end up looking stupid when an editor reads your manuscript—or at least wincing when you discover the error later. You can cut down on this sort of problem by using fewer contractions.

A similar problem occurs with “its" versus "it's." If you’re one of the world’s many self-appointed proofreaders, you know that the wrong choice is made far too often in advertising, letters, or anywhere else someone is faced with the question, “Should I use an apostrophe here, or not?”

The problem can plague even experienced writers. It’s the homonym effect again, complicated by the fact that we are trained to use an apostrophe with almost every possessive.