The Escalation of the Advertising Game

So I came across something interesting in my feeds the other day. This one on a Facebook feed. Facebook, for those of you who don’t use it, is a social networking site ostensibly about linking you up with friends and family to share pictures and goings on, but really more about collecting and selling your data while funneling ads at you (I get, on average, about one message or e-mail a day from them urging me to give them money to advertise this website). So, if you’re like me and attempting to use to to keep up with the goings-on of friends and family, that means that you end up seeing a lot of ads.

One of these ads I usually shoot by caught my eye, because it was a Science-Fiction movie trailer. Which you’d think Facebook would have figured out is the kind of ad I don’t mind seeing, but with their usual “show them how to think” mantra, most of the movie ads I see tend to be for films my interest rating is around zero in.

I digress. So hey, Sci-Fi movie ad! I’m game! So I started watching it. It looked a little low budget, and I don’t recognize any of the actors … But I’m not very in tune with Hollywood stars anyway (save a few) and it could be a SyFy flick.

Plot sounded … interesting. Not super attention grabbing, but at least decently interesting. A spin on the “last man” trope, one of those stories that opens after everything has fallen apart and the survivors have picked up the pieces, only to have someone come along and disturb the apple cart again. You know, familiar enough, but constantly on the rebound because it is a solid trope.

So I’m watching people run with desperate looks on their faces, shadowy figures raise guns, etc … and the accolades start popping up on screen. You know, the kind of thing where critics who have seen the film already or been given previews deliver quotes to make you excited for the film?

Except … these weren’t film critics. And my brain did a sudden, jarring “Wait, what?”

They were book reviewers. I wasn’t watching a movie trailer. I was watching a live-action trailer … for a book.

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Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Nothing New Under the Sun

Hello readers! And welcome to the first installment of Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! Where we’re looking, one week at a time, at all the cliche writing advice out there, the quick sentences thrown out by dozens of Facebook, Tumblr, and (shudder) Twitter users, or even just regular folks at a coffee shop. The kind of stuff that comes in a quick, digestible sentence and sounds like it’s useful.

Catch is, most of this sort of writing advice is so brusque that it’s really not that useful. Instead, it’s a bit like, well, like a small wooden carving that’s been carved one too many times. it still has the general shape, yes, but it also isn’t quite what it should be. But people keep passing it around anyway and saying “This is that thing!” because now it’s small, somewhat attractive, well-worn, and easy to pass along. Even if the thing it supposedly represents isn’t all that close when someone who’s actually seen one picks the carving up.

Which is why this summer, for the next month or so, Being a Better Writer is going to be digging into a whole range of cliche writing advice sayings that are spat out and regurgitated without much thought for how accurate they really are. The kind of things that are easy to remember and say … but may not hold as much truth, or really even useful advice, as most people think.

Or maybe they do? That’s what the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is here to find out. We’re going to break these cliche sayings down, see what makes them tick, see what they’re intended to accomplish, what they actually accomplish, where they go wrong, and then see if we can’t glean some good old fashioned knowledge to improve our craft out of what’s left. And the cliche for this week?

There’s nothing new under the sun.

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You’ve Got to Be Careful with User Reviews …

Hey readers. Got a bit of an interesting one for you today. How well do you look at user  reviews when you’re examining a product?

Okay, now to be clear, most of us know that reviews, with the advent of the internet, have sort of become a giant free-for-all. Sands, I remember when One Drink had just come out, and I was young and innocent and looking for ways to get my book out there. I was astounded and disappointed with the amount of paid review services out there.

And oh yeah, that’s not allowed. But despite a lot of online companies’ best efforts (such as Amazon) the process continues. I recall, when looking out there for One Drink, being shocked at how easy some of these places made it seem. Why wait for real reviews when a company in China could simply give you several hundred reviews for a few hundred dollars, all from “guaranteed different accounts” with a “guaranteed variance” so that while you’d end up with the 4 or 5 star rating you chose (no joke) you could still have a wide range of reviews that averaged there, so that Amazon’s automated systems wouldn’t pick it up. Again, guaranteed. All you had to do was pay them and gift them a copy of your item for every review you wanted.

Now, while Amazon and other places have worked at closing down loopholes, they’re still there. I remember another site, a book review blog that seemed fairly popular (though that isn’t my sphere, so it’s hard to say) that would freely take any book sent to them … but pointed out very overtly in their “review request” section that they wouldn’t look at it without a “donation” and that said donation would have a lot to do with how much attention they gave your book.

I wish I were joking, but I’m not. If memory serves correctly, a “donation” of $500 meant that they were “very likely” to feature your book on their banner and praise it for at least a few weeks, while further “donations” could lengthen that time.

This was years ago, and I’ve long since stopped looking, but given that sites like Amazon continue to make changes to their review policies (such as the recent Amazon change where you must be spending $50 a year on average to leave reviews) would seem to suggest that the issue is still an ongoing battle.

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Being a Better Writer Follow-up: Em-dash Addendum

Hello readers! Bit of a mid-week surprise here with a follow-up to Monday’s post, The Ellipses and the Em-Dash, Odd Forms of Punctuation. An interesting follow-up with a bit of history for you that may clear up a question some readers apparently were left with. I got a few comments on the post, split between here on the site and a reblog elsewhere, expressing questions about the en-dash. Nope, not the em-dash, but endash. Which I’ll admit I’d forgotten all about, as for me it was hardly ever used.

Turns out there’s a reason for that. With a few comments on the topic, I went digging, and found out why. And now, I pass it on to you, readers, as it will likely clear up some confusion experienced by some of you after reading Monday’s article.

See, there were a few people who contacted me to point out that they’d never heard of the em-dash being used the way I’d spoken of it, but rather the en-dash. Which, if you’ve not seen it, is just a slightly shorter em-dash. Think halfway between an em-dash and a hyphen. In the US, the only time we use the en-dash is for the dash between dates, like say 1947–1951.

In the US.

Yeah. I did some digging, and found something out I didn’t know before Tuesday morning. See, the em-dash and the en-dash? Both are dashes named for the size of the dash when they were a piece of movable type. One is the size of the letter N, the other the letter M.

Then there’s another bit. Both were dashes, just of different lengths, and so the places doing the printing (likely driven by space and cost factors, as a lot of conventions that became grammar rules came from that) had to choose which was appropriate.

In the United States, the em-dash was chosen to be the common piece, and the en-dash relegated to dates and a few case-specific uses.

In Britain, however, it was the other way around. That’s right, in Britain the en-dash was made the common piece, and the em-dash relegated to dates and specific uses.

Oh. Suddenly some confusion at my post makes a lot of sense. It’s another case where internationally, countries differ in their usage of grammar. Like grey or gray, color or colour.

Thankfully, in the modern era, readers are a little bit more jaded when it comes to such differences thanks to the internet. Pick the one you’re most comfortable with, and again, as stated Monday, be consistent.

Now, back to writing!

Being a Better Writer: The Ellipses and the Em-dash, Odd Forms of Punctuation

Welcome back readers! I hope you had, if from the US, a successful and interesting 4th of July, and if not from the US, a solid weekend! I did. For starters, my friends and I gathered and watched all of Season 3 of Netflix’s Stranger Things. I won’t spoil anything (obviously, I mean, come on) but I will say that I think it’s better than the second season. Mostly because they fixed the largest flaw with the second season, which was some weak pacing in the last few episodes. Here everything is much more tightly bound together, and there’s never really a single moment where even if you feel like you can stop that you want to.

So yeah, it’s really good. I do recommend. Next, there are only a few hours left in the Independence Day Sale! By tomorrow, it’ll no longer be available, so if you were planning on grabbing Shadow of an EmpireColonyDead Silver, or another book of mine while they were on the cheap, now’s your last chance! You’ve only got until the end of the day!

Finally, just a quick heads-up that we’re about to start the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice here with Being a Better Writer, and we’ve put out requests to you, readers, for every bit of cliche writing advice you’ve ever been told. If you missed the announcement, there’s a lot of cliche writing advice out there that can do more harm than good, especially when it’s taken literally and without the context it once had. So BaBW is going to spend the summer breaking down that advice, stepping back to look at what it really means and what you should be learning from it.

That starts next week and runs through either the summer or until we run out of cliche advice! If you’ve got one that you’ve always heard, go ahead and post it in the comments so it can go on the list!

Right, so with all that said (you read it, right? Sale, Stranger Things, and Summer of Cliche Writing Advice!), let’s talk writing! Specifically, let’s talk about some of the lesser-taught methods of punctuation out there: the ellipses and the em-dash.

You’ve seen them before … Right? In fact, there was one right there! Those three periods right in a row, the “…” That’s an ellipses, and you’ve likely seen one from time to time when reading a book. Or a lot if you read comics, or fairly regularly if you’re reading technical or research papers that use a lot of quotations. Though the use is a bit different in that last one.

Point being, you’ve likely seen it used somewhere. But, even though used on occasion, you don’t see it used as often as, say, the comma, or the period, or the question mark, all of which are regular features of punctuation you’re taught about in a basic school education.

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HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!

And if you’re Great Britain, well no hard feelings. I think we made up for it during WWII.

Jokes aside, I hope you all have a fantastic Independence Day, and find something to celebrate for. Me and mine? We’re going to marathon season 3 of Stranger Things. That’s not a plug or anything. We’re just really excited for season 3.

What is a plug is a reminder not to forget the big 4th of July sale on all my books. Sorry, had to say it. And for those of you in countries where the deal hasn’t started yet, sorry about that, it’ll start for you on the 5th, because … You know, I’m not really sure. Regional differences?

Anyway, all you people have a great 4th of July!

The Independence Day Weekend Sale is Live!

Hey readers, just a quick heads up and plug: If you’re a fan of my writing, be it on the site, or the fanfiction I’ve written, or you’ve picked up one of my books, and you’re interested in reading more, well … Have I got news for you! The Independence Day Weekend Sale is live reader! Live!

How live? How about “You can grab every book I’ve ever written for nine bucks!? Yeah, it’s that live.

Colony, my biggest hit? $2. Yeah. Two measly dollars. For 1500 or so pages of mystery, discovery, and of course, insane action!

Shadow of an Empirethe Wild-West Fantasy Epic? 50% off. $4. Yeah, for a thousand pages of horseback chases, mystery, action (because both of those are givens), and magic across a sweeping desert!

Unusual Events? 99 cents. Dead Silver? 99 cents. One Drink? 99 cents.

So yeah, nine dollars nets you it all.

Sale extends through this week until next Monday! Don’t miss it!