Spreading the word

Successful Blog – Helping Clients Get Past Blogaphobia

In response to my precis of the recent Economist new media survey, Frank Wilson made a typically succinct and pertinent comment about the future of these media: "no one in fact knows how this is going to develop. But those who are participating have an advantage, because one can understand this phenomenon only to the extent that one participates in it."

Frank has articulated very well a particular aspect of blogging: the ability to understand it by those who don’t do it. It seems to me rather like trying to explain to someone who does not have children what it is like to have them.

Liz (M. E.) Strauss, on her excellent site Successful and Outstanding Blogging, posted on this topic a week or so ago (link at start of this posting). In her article "Helping Clients get past Blogophobia", Liz discusses her huge enthusiasm for blogging and the effect this has on clients.

"We who blog, learn blogging like folks who move to a foreign country learn a new language and culture — by immersion. The people that we talk to regularly are having the same experience as we are. They know the sense of community. They know the personal and professional growth that comes from putting things on the Internet rather than always taking things off. They know, as we do, that not every blog is a whiny diary or some sort of political flame war." But: "the people we meet who aren’t blogging have heard the stories without benefit our experiences. Pick the wrong example and we can scare the pants off the exact people we’re trying to invite."

To advise the bloggophile on tempering her enthusiasm so as not to scare away the uninitiated, Liz links to a posting by Anil Dash on Moveable Type news. Anil says: "All of us who work with blogs, especially those of us who’ve done it for years, are excited about their potential. We can come up with lots of useful examples of how businesses can benefit from blogs, but sometimes our own enthusiasm gets the best of us.
To put it more succinctly: A lot of folks who are blogging “experts” talk about blogs in a way that scares the hell out of normal business people."

Anil lists some key points that can be used to help make the case to a client or employer, with the goal of showing that blogs are safe.

In the comments to Anil’s post, Celeste W of Studio 501C draws attention to her own post, A blog can be like a business lunch. She’s talking about nonprofit organisations, but Celeste recommends that such organisations have a blog that acts like a business lunch — a simple, general blog that chronicles life in the organisation. Such a blog can even (!) be that of PR or marketing people — the Air Conditioning Contractors of America being given as an example. Celeste provides lots of good examples of the kind of item that could be included in such a blog.

The bottom line is, those who blog know it is great. We know about the wonderful mix of self-expression and communication that blogging brings. We are aware of the power of the blogging movement (as articulated, for example, in An Army of Davids by Glenn Reynolds). But lots of other people don’t know or understand about this power, and are suspicious. (Remember that "blogs are cannibals" article in the online part of the Wall St Journal.) These articles I’ve linked too here are useful examples of how bloggers’ enthusiasm can be tempered and channelled so that more people and organisations can be persuaded of the power and usefulness of blogging.

The prediction by the Economist — one day soon, everyone will have their own blog — is one with which I concur. I also think every organisation will have at least one, as more and more of us join the conversation.

skint writer said… Yes, I can see everyone having their own blog, just like everyone has got a mobile phone (well almost everyone). I wonder how this will affect our psyches in the long term?

11:31 PM

Writing websites

A website called YouWriteOn.com was mentioned in the Times the other day, so I went over to have a look, despite the offputting title (what self-respecting writer would call a site that?).

The promise of the site is to help "new writers develop and talented writers get noticed and published". It is "sponsored" by the Arts Council, so I presume it is kosher, but it seems to be a sort of Connotea/Delicious for writers, rather than the writer’s X-factor (as the site claims) or anything else. The homepage says that you review and rate other members’ opening chapters, and then (upon completion of your task, preumably) your opening chapters are sent randomly to another new member to review and rate. The highest-rated chapters receive a "free critique from our literary professionals, who include established authors and a literary agent". The site says it will publish the highest rated book of the year — however, this book will be "available to order from Amazon, WHS, Waterstones" et al., which makes it sound to me like a print on demand operation rather than a conventionally published book. Seems like a lot of effort to go through for something you could do yourself anyway.

You can’t seem to do much without actually becoming a member, but there is plenty of information on the site, so it should be fairly easy to find out if it is really offering nascently publishable writers anything useful, or not.

In looking for YouWriteOn (ugh), I mistyped the url I had jotted down from the Times and arrived instead at YouWrite.com, a completely different site. YouWrite is not yet operational, but will be an exercise in global writing: "Welcome to YouWrite.com, an exciting new concept for people interested in reading books and in writing them. With YouWrite.com you will soon be able to join people from all around the world to write a book together. We will start the story and then you take over. Alternatively, if you have a great idea then submit it to us and we may choose your contribution as a starting point."

At this stage, you can’t find out much, but you can register and they will email you when they get to the next phase. This activity (group writing) is as old as the hills; my children do it at school sometimes, though via pen and paper, not on the web. There must be other websites around that are doing this kind of thing, but somehow I can’t imagine putting the proposed output very high on my reading list.

What is it with these websites and running together words with captial letters in them?

(Spell-check suggestion of the day: "worried" for "YouWrite".)

Book review: a pair of pairs

Preferring to believe in serendipity than a kind of internal morphic resonance, I have by chance read in direct succession two books by pairs of authors. One is a series, the other not.

First up, Guilt, by G. H. Ephron — actually Hallie Ephron (sister of Nora, Delia and Amy) and forensic neuropsychologist Donald Davidoff — this pair has written their fifth Dr Peter Zak crime-fiction novel. I suppose I read the first, Amnesia, as a result of one of those Amazon recommendations leading on from Jonathan Kellerman, whose early books are just so, so good. I followed up immediately on Amnesia by reading Addiction and Delusion. All are excellent, featuring the aforementioned Dr Peter Zak of the Pearce Psychiatric Unit, and combine his working life at the unit with (you guessed it) a related crime to solve. Obsessed, the next book, left me with the slight feeling that the series may have peaked, but nevertheless I was very keen to read Guilt. I’ve been waiting for ages for it to come out in paperback, but thanks to an Amazon seller and the Palm Beach County Library system, who seem to have finished with their copy, I was able to get a jump on cheap publication.

Unfortunately, Guilt confirms to me my impression that the series has become a tad mechanical. The authors have shifted the emphasis away from the Pearce (so we barely get any of Gloria or the rivalry between Zak and his colleague Dr Kim, and only a couple of patients feature; Peter’s mother is reduced to a convenient plot device instead of a character in her own right), and away from Zak himself onto Annie, a character introduced relatively recently. Annie is a recognisable genre cliche: "perfect girlfriend/investigator/feminist" who can do it all without a man, but who would quite like to get married really. By focusing on her, Guilt becomes too much like all the other crime-fiction novels out there, and loses its distinctive neuropsychology "voice". Added to this, Guilt attempts to address post-9/11 paranoia via a plot about a Harvard bomber, which I don’t feel is entirely successful.

I don’t mean to say the book isn’t good — it certainly is. But the authors have to fall back on the usual "girl in peril" angle to keep up the tension, and the tracking down and identity of the bomber is nothing like as nail-biting as some of the patient-related plots of the earlier books. I would recommend Guilt if you liked the earlier books in the series, but don’t read this one first. I hope that if the authors write another one, they return to a Zak/Pearce-centered plot and cut down the Annie quotient (Sara Paretsky does the woman investigator thing so much better).

The second paired novel is Catch Me When I Fall by Nicci French. NF is the husband and wife team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. They have written several excellent crime-fiction books together, each being a stand-alone, so each focuses on a different issue, usually of contemporary urban life. A woman is almost always the central character, but presented as a real, fallible person, not a superheroine, a good start.

Catch me when I fall (another book obtained pre-paperback release but actually in paperback by some Amazonimagic — I have my theories) almost blows it for me. It is written from the point of view of a character who is so unsympathetic that I fairly often lost interest and almost put the book down for good. Not that it isn’t well written, but I just could not understand why anyone would put up with this stupid woman. Having to view the world through her perception was just so annoying! However, just as I got to the point of no return, we hit part 2, in which another character takes over the narration. This has the dual positive effect of allowing one to see the main character more at a distance, with the result that she is immediately more bearable; and increases the tension, because now we don’t know if she is going to die at the end (as advertised in the prologue) or not.

The plot outcome is pretty obvious (though I do read a lot of these books!), but that doesn’t matter. As usual with Nicci French, the writing is so good, and the context of the book far richer than just the "crime" aspect, that one feels pleased to have read the book, and to have gained some insight in the process. It is not the best book of this collaboration, but definitely recommended.

Incidentally, as I’ve mentioned previously, Nicci Gerrard has written two novels under her own name, Solace and Things we Knew Were True, which I highly recommend. They are not genre fiction. Both are excellent, extremely readable and perceptive portraits of women and the effects of their families on their lives. I suppose they are like Joanna Trollope but edgier and more intimate.