Posts Tagged 'Writing'

How to improve your Blogging

A while back I posted that I was assessing a multimedia course on blogging from an outfit called Simpleology. It was – and still is as far as I know – offered for free, so I was prepared for something a bit superficial. However, I duly signed on to access the course (itself a rather tortuous process – you have to wade through rather a lot of promotional stuff before you get to the point) and was impressed.

The course comes as 15 audio-visual lessons, with simple but clear graphics and helpful commentary from Mark Joyner. There are also interactive quizzes at the end of each lesson, as a way of revising. There’s a lot of “what to do’s”, while some of the “how to do it’s” are a little sketchy; but they generally point you in the direction of further help.

About a third of the course is directed at those who want to make money from a blog. This is not something I aspire to (yet!). Nevertheless, as an elderly Englishman just venturing into the blogosphere for the first time, I found some useful information in the lessons, and I would think others would find it helpful.

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Blogging in vain!

What, for heaven’s sake, does one have to do to get one’s blog read? My posts hitherto have not, I think, been badly written. Some have been mildly provocative, a few even (I hope) amusing; yet they are seen by only a handful – if that.

So what do I have to do? Write with bad grammar, eccentric spelling and no punctuation? Make outrageous statements about politics or religion (and run the risk of attack and abuse from fanatics with opposite views)? I’ve tried the odd photograph, without getting any reaction – which is perhaps not surprising if only three people see it. And I can’t bring myself to give a detailed account of what I had for breakfast.

Should I be wide-ranging in my topics, or should I specialise (sorry, USA – specialize) in some narrow field?

I feel like screaming “My blog is at least as interesting as thousands of others which seem to be well viewed. For God’s sake, you f***ers, come and have a look – and say something!”

But I suppose a cry for for help is pointless; no-one will read the bloody thing anyway.

Publishing mysteries

Having only just brought out my first book (not, I hope, my last), I find myself totally baffled by the publishing industry. When the book went to press, I agreed, in consultation with Authors Online, to a retail price of £7.99. My own return, on that price, is a little over £1 per copy (unless I buy copies myself at around £4.20 and flog them direct).

In due course the title appeared on Amazon, at the full list price. After two or three weeks, however, it was offered at £7.59 – a 5% discount. Fair enough; but, on the same page, is a note saying “11 used and new from £3.58”.  When I click on this I find a list of eleven sellers offering my book, new, at prices ranging from £3.58 to £9.30.

How, I ask myself, is anyone going to make a worthwhile profit at £3.58? And who, in their right mind, is going buy a book for £9.30 when, on the same page, it is advertised at £7.59, or even less?

Can anyone explain this? Or is it all a cyber-fantasy, in which nobody is actually buying or selling anything?

For a few days, Amazon had my book ranked as ‘#4 best-seller’ in the Biography – Dancers category. This seemed rather thrilling; but did  it mean anything? Or did it just imply that no other books in the category were selling at that time?

If any wiser head than mine can explain all this, I will be grateful.

Are you affected by effects?

I used to have a boss who was never sure whether to write ‘effect’ or ‘affect’. Whenever he got to the word, he would ring me up for advice – and cheerfully admitted that he could never remember what I told him from one time to the next.

It is confusing, I know. And it’s made worse by the fact that each of them can be either a verb or a noun (though affect as a noun is pretty rare and a bit archaic). I tend to think of them in their verb forms first:

effect = to carry out, to execute, as in “my plan is to effect changes” (think of the initial ‘e’ in effect and the initial ‘e’ in execute.)

affect = to have an influence upon, as in “those changes will affect a lot of people“.

It does get a bit trickier though when effect is also a noun – as in “if I effect those changes, the effect will be to affect many people” .

Then, to make matters worse, there is an alternative meaning of the verb to affect, linked to the word ‘affectation’, as in “he affects a slight foreign accent “.

In the end, you just have to rely on your memory. Or, failing that, ring up a subordinate. You might find that effective.

Writing goofs

When I was at school (a very long time ago) I was taught how to write. I don’t mean just how to form letters; I mean how to put words together so that their meaning is clear and unambiguous. And I was taught that it is important to spell correctly, to observe certain rules of grammar and syntax, and to punctuate in a way that aids understanding.

So deeply were these rules ingrained that, to this day, I just cannot help wincing when I see them broken.

I am aware however that, in the intervening years, a more relaxed approach has come in. Younger people have been encouraged simply to express themselves, and not to worry about ‘correctness’. Indeed, the pendulum has swung so far that oldies like me are made to feel like fastidious old pedants, fussing on endlessly about things that don’t matter.

I was particularly glad, therefore, to come across Joanna Young’s blog at http://coachingwizardry.typepad.com/confident_writing/. She, it seems to me, has the right approach. She advocates the correct use of language, not for its own sake, but for what it says about you and your organisation, as well as for that clarity and precision that we all strive for.

Her ‘five common grammar mistakes’ chime precisely with those that most commonly make me wince these days. They are:

  • Confusing it’s and its
  • Confusing they’re, their and there
  • Confusing your and you’re
  • Using apostrophes to try and create a plural
  • Forgetting to use apostrophes to show possession
The first and last of these are, of course, linked. People write “the book and it’s title” because they think the apostrophe is needed to indicate possession – forgetting that “its” is a possessive pronoun in its own right, just like ‘his’ and ‘hers’, whereas “it’s” is just an abbreviation of “it is”. Yet one sees this error in the copy of major advertisers, whose (not ‘who’s’) agencies really ought to know better.
So – thanks, Joanna, for highlighting these points. I’m on your side!
Oh – and one more thing that makes me wince: the creeping use of lower-case”i” for the first person singular.