My father told me the story of how he quit smoking. A doctor friend of his took him to the hospital's morgue and showed him the lungs from a smoker and those from a non-smoker. From that day on he did not smoke again. Of course not everyone has a friend who is a doctor with access to a morgue, but I hope the following short video does the same for you.
How hard are authors working at promoting their books through Twitter and Facebook? Is it effective?
Codex is a company that performs book marketing studies based on surveys of book readers. The results of their latest study based on 8000 plus readers filtered out to the web in February but these results are still unknown to many people, so I will post the main points here.
The majority (81%) of book buyers found their books by what we can call "traditional means". These are things like browsing bookstores, recommendations from people they know, news, interviews, reviews, e-mail (yes, this one is now a "traditional means"), advertisements, etc. The remaining 19% found about their books from online sources. These sources are things like author websites, e-book stores, online advertisements, blogs, reader reviews, etc.
The above comes as no surprise. After all, print books are still about 80% of the books sold in the United States, and the reading and book shopping habits of people do not change overnight.
What was surprising is that of the 19% that found their books online, only 1.2% discovered the last book they bought through social networks like Twitter, Facebook, or video book trailers.
So to those authors out there putting hours and hours into their Twitter and Facebook accounts and trying to make a video promoting their latest book, the lesson should be clear. Consider devoting more of your time connecting with readers through blogs, reviews, or online advertising. Of course a little blurb in the local newspaper wouldn't be that bad either.
The writer V.S. Naipaul made his mark writing primarily about British colonialism. He won many awards including the Nobel Prize in literature in 2001, and he has been called "the greatest living writer of English prose". This is why, when he was interviewed on May 2011 at the Royal Geographic Society, there were many people listening. After all, when a Nobel laureate speaks, we assume that he/she has something to say. And maybe he did, but alas, whatever he said of substance was lost amidst the furor created by some comments he made.
In a nutshell Naipaul considers that there are no women writers who are his equals. He says that this is because women writers are "different". He claims that when he reads something written by a woman he can immediately tell that is the case. He believes this is because of women's sentimentality and narrow view of the world, which makes their writing inferior to that of men. The fact that they are not complete masters of a house comes across in their writing too.
He mentioned that when his publisher, who was a great editor, became a writer, all that she produced was "feminine tosh". And of author Jane Austen in particular, he said that he could not possibly share her sentimental ambitions and sense of the world.
Upon learning of his comments the first thing that came to my mind was to ask what would Mr. Naipaul think of the Erica Jong quote:
"Beware of the man who denounces women writers; his penis is tiny and he cannot spell."
Would he consider this particular world view to be sentimental and narrow?
It would be easy to end this article here with this naughty quote, but Naipaul's comments stirred in me again something that has always bothered me regarding writing. However, before I deal with that let me point out two things regarding his comments.
The first thing I would point out is: Even if it were true that women have a more sentimental and narrow view of the world, what is wrong with that? Emotions are a fundamental component of the human experience, and always seeing the forest, but not the individual trees, blinds you to important aspects of reality. To quote Erica Jong again:
"There is still the feeling that women's writing is a lesser class of writing, that what goes on in the nursery or the bedroom is not as important as what goes on in the battlefield, that what women know about is a lesser category of knowledge."
If women are indeed more sentimental and have a narrower view of the world, then their point of view is necessary to complement that of men's. But I think that Naipaul's implication that, if we allow part of what we are to "contaminate" our writing it will make it "inferior", only makes sense if these traits that he associates with women are something he lacks. I will not engage in armchair psychology here but you can google the details of his personal life: it's not pretty. In my opinion this guy is a character who could benefit from some sentimentality and a narrower view of the world himself.
The second thing I would like to point out is that women have come a long way from the time of the latter Erica Jong quote. Women are heads of state, captains of industry, Nobel laureates, professors, pastors, and even warriors in battlefields. What they say and do goes beyond the bedroom and the nursery: it affects the life of billions. By not admitting women to be the intellectual equals of men Naipaul is going against the facts.
So why do I waste ink on this clown? It's because of what bothers me about the nature of writing.
I believe good writers have a gift. They have a unique way to view the world, grasp its realities and then communicate them to others. Nobel laureates, despite all the criticisms levied at the Nobel committee, stand out among all writers as the very best examples of what can be done with this gift. So, call me naive, but I am shocked every time a Nobel Prize winning writer comes across as no more enlightened than the local drunken bum down the road.
I may not be a good writer, but writing has made me discover new universes in me that I didn't know existed before. Writing has enriched my human experience, and has made me a better person. Therefore I tend to believe that writing does this to every writer. Although I know this is not true, I would expect that this would be the case at least at the very top: that all writers of Nobel class stature would find that writing turns them into better persons.
That obviously is not always the case, and I don't know why. Perhaps for many, writing is not the magical process that I idealize. Writing may be no different than playing golf, collecting stamps, selling cars, laying bricks, or cleaning toilets. You may excel at these hobbies or occupations but they are just that: a hobby or a job, which can be totally divorced from what you are or become. And that is sad.
What do you think?
Jackson Pearce author of Sisters Red (a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood), answers questions from Figment.com users. She answers a question about self-publishing around min. 1:45. I don't agree with her but she is both engaging and fun to hear & watch.
I had read Stephen King's book "On Writing" many years ago, but since I am now writing, I decided to give it another read. This is how in the chapter entitled "Toolbox" I came upon the following:
Steve states that communication is composed of several parts of speech and it must be organized by several rules of grammar upon which we agree. He writes "When these rules break down, confusion and misunderstanding result. Bad grammar produces bad sentences." He then proceeds to quote his favorite example from the book "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White.
"As a mother of five, with another one on the way, my ironing board is always up."
I scratched my head and grimaced feeling a bit hopeless. After all Steven King is one of my favorite writers and this is HIS FAVORITE example of how bad grammar produces bad sentences. The problem is, I didn't see it. To me the meaning of the sentence is plain. A pregnant woman, who already has five kids, is obviously talking or thinking about the fact that her ironing board is always up due to her situation. I must have reread the sentence twenty times and still I didn't see it. I showed it to several people, they thought it was OK. What is the problem? I gave up and I did what we all do to obtain information in these times: I googled it.
The problem seems to be the following: The segment "mother of five" is a "dangling modifier". This means that it is intended to describe a noun or pronoun that isn't there next to it. Because the closest noun in the sentence is "ironing board" it is claimed that this will confuse the reader into thinking the ironing board has had five children and is pregnant again.
Really? Sorry but this thought never crossed my mind while reading this sentence. When the meaning of a sentence is crystal clear to the majority of people who read it, how can you make the case that it is confusing and wrong? The purpose of grammar is not to follow rules blindly because they are THE RULES. The purpose of grammar is to make the text readable and clear for the reader. With regards to the sentence in question, even though the noun is not next to the modifier "mother of five", its presence is very clearly implied (the woman is talking about herself, not the ironing board). The meaning is so obvious that there is no confusion. If the readers don't see a problem, if the text is readable, if the meaning is clear, why create an issue when there isn't one?
You could argue that the rules should be applied in general to every situation so we can avoid the more obvious cases such as:
"Wrapped in foil, Joe ate the hamburger."
(Did Joe wrap himself in foil before eating the hamburger, or did he eat the hamburger which was wrapped in foil?)
"Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap."
(Who was in a dilapidated condition, the person who bought the house, or the house?)
or part of a funny quote from Groucho Marx:
"This morning I shot an elephant wearing my pajamas."
(Did he shoot an elephant while he was wearing his pajamas, or did he shoot and elephant that was wearing his pajamas?)
I do agree that in many such cases the reading experience can be improved by fixing the grammar. However, I would argue that we have to proceed in a case by case basis because context and implied meanings may trump the mindless application of grammatical rules.
Consider the following sentence found in a New York Times best seller often cited as an example of poor grammar:
“We found the address he gave me without difficulty”.
Again, what is wrong with this? As I understood it, one person who belongs to a group (we) is stating that they had no difficulty in finding an address that another person gave them. Most readers would read through this without blinking. The "problem" seems to be that "without difficulty" has been placed next to "gave me" instead of "found". Thus you could interpret that the group found an address, which somebody had effortlessly (without difficulty) given to one of them. Sorry, but this interpretation never crossed my mind, I had to really make an effort to see it this way.
I am all for improving our grammar, but there is an inherent danger in taking this to an extreme. The more grammar you learn the more you may demand from others that they exhibit the same level of learning you have. Because of this you may end up finding that the majority of the stories written by normal human beings strike such dissonance in your mind that you cannot bring yourself to read them, and this would be very sad. We should not let learning too much grammar spoil the enjoyment of a good story.
It was about time that someone praised our virtues and sang songs to us acknowledging our toils and troubles. The part with Jerry Lewis around 2:14 min. is hilarious!
My story Half-Way Point has been voted the May Community Project Scribd Staff favorite!
I am a tinker, tailor,
Robert David MacNeil
The Passive Voice
Third Sunday Blog Carnival