Writing Rules? or, The Spelling Conspiracy

Webster1by CJ Verburg

Noah Webster created his first dictionary to help Americans build a nation on the most basic level.  Like the war, his “Blue-Backed Speller” was revolutionary.  Why should citizens of the newly United States stay yoked to Britain with words like traveller and colour, when traveler and color are a better match for how we speak and write?

The purpose of any dictionary is to aid communication.  If each person spells a word however s/he hears it, can people be sure of understanding each other?  Is Shaksper the same man as Shakespeare?  Does it matter if your plan affects or effects the solution to my problem?  Webster, like other lexicographers, believed that when a nation agrees to spell the same word the same way, its citizens communicate better.

eatsshootsThe same belief underlies the rules of grammar and punctuation.  Take the serial comma.  Unfashionable though it’s become lately, it can play a key role in a sentence.  If Mr. Colbert’s will leaves his fortune “to be divided equally between Albert, Bertram and Delbert,” does that mean Albert, Bertram, and Delbert each get one-third, or Albert gets half and Bertram and Delbert split the other half?

Remember the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves?  How you interpret that title depends on whether and how it’s punctuated.

In our Internet-centered era, written messages often are aimed at thousands or millions of readers.  Savvy marketers pander to our resistance to lemming-think by hyping a mass illusion of individuality.massindividuality  Spelling and grammar are cast as villains–pawns in some evil conspiracy to stop you from expressing your full, real self.  Convenience dovetails with this scenario: it’s only a text/e-mail; who cares?  The consensus becomes: Why should I waste my time on following a bunch of old rules when (A) I have Spell-Check, and (B) everybody knows what I mean anyway?

Thus the following first paragraph in Daniel Newman’s June 17 e-column in Forbes:

“There may not be a CEO or entrepreneur on the planet who doesn’t smile just a little bit when they hear the phrase ROI. In a world that is fueled by obvious returns in periods to short to make meaningful progress (thank you stock market), the idea that measurability exists provides piece of mind to so many of those responsible for the vision, strategy and execution of their respective organizations.”

What is the impact of the typographical and grammatical errors in this paragraph?  Spell-Check didn’t catch them.  Do they keep us from understanding what point(s) Newman is making?  Not so much as they reinforce the confusion created by his awkward syntax, i.e., arrangement of words in sentences.  Does this opening paragraph give you confidence in the accuracy and importance of what its author is about to tell you?  For me it created doubts, which were confirmed by this conclusion:

“What may be the most important take away from all of this is that the desire to connect dots that don’t connect needs to be avoided at all costs when trying to measure the ROI of certain marketing practices.  For instance, the value of a follow, a like or (gulp) an impression; sure you can build an equation that will give you an answer but don’t be upset when I pass judgment on your for making ridiculous correlations.”

Takeaway?  I didn’t learn any useful information from this column.

spelling-tools-s200Spelling, punctuation, grammar, and syntax are not handcuffs or girdles, much less weapons of an elitist conspiracy.  They are tools, like hammers and saws, for building reliable structures.  You don’t necessarily need a hammer–you can whack a nail into a wall with your shoe and hang a picture on it, if you don’t mind sweeping up broken glass the next morning.  You don’t necessarily need to take care how you spell or phrase a text, or even a blog or a column, if you don’t care whether the message received matches the message you meant to send.  However, consider your purpose.  If you are asking people you don’t know to trust you–in particular, to buy something from you, whether that’s an idea, a proposal, or your new book–you’ll do well to use the same language to send your message as they’re using to receive it.

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First Day of Summer BOOK SALE @ARe/OmniLit, or What’s HOT?

AREheaderby Charisse Howard

Looking for a romance novel to kick off your weekend?  On ARe today (June 21), search #AREBLAST for enough sale-priced romances (and other books) to last you all summer.

LCCCAReOr, if you’d rather not grope through a line-up of six-pack abs and calender-class bosoms, cut to the chase:  Sail the Mediterranean from Tunis to Gibraltar with my short spicy Regency Rakes & Rebels romance Lady Caroline, the Corsair’s Captive for just $1.

DHpink200If you love fast horses, fast-moving plots, disguises, surprises, and Shakespeare, try my full-length five-star “sweet” romance Dark Horseman: Mystery, Adventure, and Romance in Regency Virginia for just $2.

What is ARe?  Long ago, in the dawn of indie publishing, i.e. 2006, All Romance E-Books started up as a small partnership near Tampa, Florida.  They quickly gained a reputation as a go-to site for romance novels and particularly authors.  Being run by romance fans, ARe became known as a friendly place to publish quickly and easily in multiple e-book formats.  As business expanded, ARe added OmniLit to make it clear that they’re open to other kinds of books, too.

In a guest post on Dear Author this past February, ARe’s Chief Operating Officer Lori James described the current romance-publishing landscape.  Anyone who’s been paying attention has noticed that what used to be called romance, back in the days of Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer, has been steamrolled by what used to be called pornography.  Lori gave a few gasp-inducing statistics.  For instance: What would you expect to be ARe’s best-selling category as of 2012?  (Hint: Jane Austen isn’t even in the top 5.)

  1. M/M Romance
  2. Erotica/Erotic Romance
  3. Shifters & Vampires
  4. Contemporary Romance
  5. Horror & Paranormal
  6. Sci-Fi & Fantasy
  7. Multiple Partners
  8. BDSM
  9. Interracial
  10. Historical Romance

Whatever your taste, you’ll find a first-day-of-summer bargain at ARe, and probably a pile of books you’d never have discovered anywhere else.

Happy reading!


Today’s Book News from NY to SF (or, BPF’s BEA BBL @ BKP)

by CJ Verburgsandwich

Thanks to Kat, Katie, & colleagues of Book Promotion Forum (formerly Northern California Book Promotion & Marketing Association) for bringing us up to date on this year’s BookExpo America, held 10 days ago in New York.  Kristen Frantz, VP of Sales & Marketing for San Francisco’s Book_Promotion_Forum_logo.1Berrett-Koehler Publishers, attended the conference and reviewed highlights today over a brown-bag lunch.

BK, like a number of other publishers, has shifted away from hosting their own BEA table to utilizing shelf and meeting space offered by their distributor, Ingram Publisher Services.  This freed Kristen and others to attend sessions and compare notes with colleagues.  The latter she found more productive than the former: the sessions tended to be brief and marketing-focused, whereas schmoozing yielded quite a bit of useful info.  For instance:bookstack

  • Neilsen regularly does research on book buyers which can help publishers: who they are, what they like, etc.
  • A new app called Books I Love asks readers to attach descriptive badges to their favorite books.  Similarities in the badges for different books suggest that readers tag what they want > what they get, providing keywords for attentive publishers.
  • Making sure titles and content are up to date on the Copyright Clearance Center can boost income from permissions.
  • Goodreads is launching some new programs, including a 20-minute webinar/video for new authors which offers an update and overview of ways to use the site and its resources.  Kat Engh observed that she now does a Goodreads giveaway for every BK book — a great way to spark interest and win visibility, especially if promotion starts a month or two before publication.
  • Audiobooks remain very popular with authors as well as publishers; and although many resort to Amazon’s ACX to create audiobooks, a number of independent audio producers still exist, including AudioGo and (locally) New Harbinger. BK plans to set up its own audio studio when it moves to Oakland in the fall.

ELSEWHERE on the SF end of the bookshelf:

beermugMechanics’ Institute Library will hold its annual Book’toberfest on Friday, September 26, 5-7 PM.  A number of local book- and education-related entities, from to BAIPA to Zyzzyva, will have tables.  Although this year there will be no presentations, there will be food and beer!

The Indie Publishers’ working group at MIL (which originated Booktoberfest) will hold its fall book event at 6 PM on Wednesday, October 29; details TBA.


LAA-audio-240LBBschoonerAReCongratulations to author Charisse Howard and narrator Stevie Zimmerman on their five-star rating for the audiobook version of Lady Annabelle’s Abduction, Regency Rakes & Rebels #1!  To celebrate, Boom-Books is dropping the price of Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer, Regency Rakes & Rebels #2, to 99¢.  For a wild adventure at a pirates’ Mardi Gras on a Louisiana bayou isle in the War of 1812, download Lady Barbara (and Lady Annabelle) to your favorite e-device tonight!