Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bye Bye Blogs, So Long to Standards?

Today I read that blogs are passe, dead, a waste of time. When the question is, how can I get readers? apparently, the answer is Twitter. Hm.

I can digg (in fact, I really Digg it!) but I'm not ready to tweet.

Assuming there's some momentum and truth (or real worth) to back up the tweeting on Twitter, and Digg lasts longer than most of my web-crushes, then (you know what's coming) what does it mean for writers? and for writing?

I'm not sure, beyond the fact that it's acceptable to start a sentence like the one above with a lowercase "a."
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I believe writers are really, really important in any civilized society. Seriously. And not just the legal specialists who write the plethora of contracts, disclaimers, and warranties.

But it's been a long day.
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I spent part of it on a conference call with about a dozen eager writers who were, I was led to believe, all ready to jump at the chance to write for the website of a "major brand" in the medical space for ... ready? $70 per article. The articles should take about two hours to complete, we were told. (I suspect more like five.) Writers on the project are instructed to conduct one interview and use it to create 5+ articles on a given topic. And/or to source quotes from the host website - with attribution to the folks previously quoted on the host website.

Is anyone besides me nauseous at this point?

If we, the professional writers, are to repurpose and essentially regurgitate the same material, the same quotes, over and over and (I really HATE this part) reuse OTHER writers' material (even from "approved" websites - in this case, a partner site, but one with separate ownership and a separate staff of writers) how long will it be before what we read has no meaning?

Not very long, my friends; webspeed is roughly equivalent to the speed of light.

And the ugly twist in the wild-web-world is that while we can crank out "new" material with a few keystrokes and cut-and-paste commands, it's damn near impossible to to determine the relative age, or accuracy, of anything we read.

What if I repurpose a quote from a doc who was an expert in his field last year but who recently was indicted for having sex with his patients, prescribing drugs based on kickbacks, fiddling with research results to further his career at the big-name clinic?

I won't know and readers won't know, if I didn't do the interviews firsthand.

So for $70 you can get a pithy article on pinkeye, and say "goodbye" to journalistic standards.

That's a very costly mistake.

I'll admit that news of the death of the blog may be grossly exaggerated, and not at all related to the demise of journalism, however, there's a lesson to be learned in both.

I think it's this: While you don't always get what you pay for, even more often, when the price tag is low so is the quality.

In the case of the $70 medical article, you, dear reader, don't know if you're getting the story straight from the horse's mouth, even if the horse is quoted and the website looks like a thoroughbred.

Caveat emptor, dear readers. Writers, good luck. And fact-checkers, raise your rates. I hope you'll soon be in great demand.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Book I Want to See

I'd love to see a book written by, or heavily packed with interviews from, the '08 presidential candidates' speechwriters. Specifically, the ones who had to write the candidates' acceptance AND concession speeches.

Crafting either must require a blend of skills employed in both fiction and non-fiction. Imagine your candidate wins: the acceptance speech should be worthy of a page or two in the history books; it must address joyous supports and angry detractors from the other guy's camp; and it must set the tone for the next four years, at least.

No pressure.

Oh, and when you finish that, could you spend a few minutes drafting a just-in-case-I-lose speech?


Top-level speechwriters in both campaigns probably began their drafts in May, if not before the spring primaries.

I'd sure like to find out how they did it, how much the candidates themselves contributed to the process, and how far McCain and Obama veered from the written document in their live addresses Tuesday night.

Pssst...I'll write it! Simon & Schuster, are you listening?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who Writes This Guy's Stuff?

The guy, Barack Obama, has brilliant writers. BRILLIANT. The script of Obama's 30-minute infomercial was impressive, tight, effective, near-perfect in content, style, and of course, delivery.

Whether you look at life through red- or blue-tinted glasses, there's no denying it: this guy has an awesome team of writers.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Content is still King

So sez William Rice in September's Promo Magazine.

In his article on Web Marketing 101, Mr. Rice seems to suggest that writers are necessary, even in the all-about-eye-candy land of web design.

"FOCUS ON CONTENT" is first of the four steps he recommends to "help ensure a Web site's effectiveness."

Content is what people come looking for. And they expect much more than just words. They want links to manuals, customer testimonials or ratings, and virtual demos. Content needs to be as entertaining as it is informative.

I like this guy. Even if he does end a sentence with a preposition.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Becks Writes? Yeck.

David Beckham will lend his name to a series of children's books.

There's a lot wrong right there, in my opinion. But wait! There's more! Read the press release and you'll see the publisher isn't mentioned (they must be very proud) nor is the title of even one of his upcoming (ghostwritten) books.

And there's a typo in the press release.

Can you say, "sour grapes?" I can. Yes, I'll admit it: the celebrity-turns-children's-book-author trend really turns my stomach.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Agent Info

To have one or not have one, that is a question writers ponder at length. I'll wager few have done it as eloquently as stellar ya author Cinda Williams Chima. Chima's website offers two pages of thoughtful and articulate pros and cons related to the "should I get an agent?" question. The only advice I can add: read it!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Following Up on Great First Lines

"You've got to have a great first line."

Well, duh. But it's tricky stuff, this writing first lines. They have to go somewhere. No matter how great the first line is, by definition, it's the start of something. The writer must build on it... apparently, that's easier said than done.

Here's a great first-line:

None of this that I'm about to tell you would have happened if my mother hadn't found that squirrel in the toilet.

--The Middle of Somewhere by J.B. Cheaney
Random House Children's Books, 2007
Pretty good, eh?

It hooked me, but not for long.

I made it through the squirrel chase and ensuing battle/injury. (To say more would ruin the surprise.) But after that, the book fell flat. And as it turned out, the squirrel wasn't anything more than a hook. I felt sort of cheated.

We readers - even YA readers - can be demanding and picky. I better remember that...I'm gearing up for another submittal (vegetables) and revision (historical novel). Wish me luck!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Boo! Book Pages Shrinking

My local paper, the venerable Cleveland Plain Dealer, sliced a significant chunk of its book review space this summer. And we'll probably never see it again. Groan.

Yeah, I know the newspaper biz is reportedly (ha! there's irony!) dying. But the book pages appeal to readers and papers really, really need readers, right?

The cut is likely to result in one, or maybe two or three fewer reviews each week. All of the reviews are likely to be shorter.

If you care, let the editors know that you miss the space.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Yay, Newspapers!

I just read that the Washington Post, New York Post, and the Daily News are planning to consolidate some operations to save costs - particularly in distribution. And I'm thrilled! It sounds like a very logical step, and one that could loosen up a bit of $$$ that should be allocated to paying writers. You know, the people who provide the content? Yeah, them.

We need them thar writers, folks. If we want to know what's going on in the world, we really need 'em.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Oh, leave Mr. Colfer alone!

Eoin Colfer, middle-school teacher turned best-selling author, has droves of critics - which I find perfectly absurd. He's a fine writer; of course he's not perfect.

It annoys me to no end to see how writers get picked apart almost to the extent that presidential candidates do. Is it not enough to have an overall grasp of the language, be able to connect with millions through mere words, imagine (and describe) a world that doesn't exist, create rich, full-bodied characters, and tell a gripping story in under 400 pages? How 'bout six of 'em (in one series) or sixteen?

Apparently, it's not enough.

As I'm preparing to review a book, I try to do a fairly broad analysis of existing criticism on the author and his/her works. So I've done with Mr. Colfer, and found many - most! - reviewers all but gloss over the main points (here's a gifted storyteller with a fabulous imagination, good-to-great writing skills, and a terrific sense of humor) to put (right up front, in the lead paragraphs sometimes!) little digs like "Colfer writes B-movie dialog" or "characters speak in cliches," or "not as action-packed as the first book."

Oh, give me a break.

I love Jane Austen's work, folks, but even Jane didn't always write up to Jane's standards. She delivered damn fine books, though. Not perfect, but good enough.

As my favorite boss liked to say, "Sometimes good enough is good enough."

I say, great writers have to know when good enough is good enough, or we (the reading public) will never get our hands on great books, or even good ones.

So leave Mr. Colfer alone! He's great! Enough.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Picture Writing

When most writers think "picture writing" they think of a lot of things - techniques, mostly, of penning descriptive language; some think of the oodles of "tricks" they've learned (and probably forgotten) in some class or workshop or seminar somewhere.

But when I stumbled upon (not using that cool but time-sucking website, by the way) i heart photograph by fellow blogger Laurel Ptak I thought, now that's really picture writing! Each of the images really do convey a thousand words.


Have a look!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Minding My Ps and Qs and Little Else

I know I'm lucky to be a writer who has a full time job writing. I know, I know. But any job bites into one's "other" writing. Sigh.

I could turn this blog into a diatribe about glaring gaffs (the misplaced and just plain unnecessary apostrophes, for starters) but that seems rather disingenuous when I'm doing very little writing myself.

So let's agree to ignore most of those "little" errors we see - you know, the ones that highlight the offending writers' abject and utter disregard for proper language and sometimes call into question his or her very moral fiber - ahem, I said, ignore them whenever possible, but never, ever grow sloppy in our own writing. Or typing.


(That was me falling off my high horse.)

Happy reading, whatever it is, and if you're writing at all, for heaven's sake, be happy!