NaNoWriMo, Social Media, and Measurability

Month of “Um” Days (hereafter MUD) day 2:

If April is the cruelest month, as the great Tom Eliot once observed, November must be the lamest. As the not-so-great Tom Hood wrote,

No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November !

So having no other options, some 250,000 people this month will write novels, as part of the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. (And, in case you’re wondering, I’m not one of those people. I have other editorial fish to fry.)

What’s curious to me about NaNoWriMo is how it has leveraged the framework of social media in the service of what is an essentially solitary and personal undertaking. I tend to think of social media as being collaborative in nature and as producing a collective benefit. But NaNoWriMo uses social media to produce an individual benefit—in this case, finally finishing that novel you’ve talked about writing for so long.

NaNoWriMo 2011

Self-help tools for aspiring novelists predate social media, but none, to my knowledge, have had such widespread success. What started out in 1999 as a casual contest among 21 Bay Area writers has turned into a world-wide event that’s led to several best sellers and many thousands of novels that might never have otherwise been finished.

You might question the quality of those novels, but that’s not the point of NaNoWriMo. It’s all about measurability, not quality. The whole point is to produce a countable number of words (50,000) in a countable number of days (30), which participants must submit for verification.

What’s brilliant, I think, about NaNoWriMo is how it uses measurability to turn social media from a vehicle for experiencing into a tool for doing. It becomes a social system to help individuals conquer what Seth Godin calls the fear of shipping.

What other examples of social media can we identify, I wonder, that use measurability to achieve individual goals? I’d try to answer that now, but my MUD rules don’t allow it. But then, dear reader, that’s what the comments are for.

Should You Edit Guest Posts? 5 Tips for Better Copy

There’s wide agreement in the blogging world about the benefits of guest posts, both for the guest blogger and the blog owner. There seems to be less consensus, however, about the logical next question: If you use guest posts, should you edit them?

In a way, I’m asking a trick question. As I explain below, the moment you accept an article, you’ve already started to edit it. Not to finish the job would do a disservice both to your guest blogger and to yourself.

The real question, then, is just how much editing you should do. To judge by the quality of many guest posts I read, the answer too often seems to be: little or none. Publishing a guest post exactly as it comes to you might seem the easiest way to proceed, but it’s a false economy. By following the five editorial principles below, you can maximize the appeal and impact of guest posts while minimizing your effort.

Give fair warning. If you plan to use guest posts on your blog, you should publish submission guidelines. If nothing else, it’s a great way of signaling that you welcome contributions.  But more importantly, by setting the ground rules and expectations clearly in advance, guidelines serve an important editorial function. When you let writers know what you need, they’ll do some of the editing for you.

It’s important, though, to keep the tone of your guidelines positive. The point isn’t to scare contributors off but to give them a helping hand. Good examples of clear but encouraging guidelines can be found on Copyblogger and ProBlogger; sound advice on how to write them is offered by One Stop Blog and Men with Pens.

If you only use guest posts on rare occasions, you don’t need published guidelines. But you should agree in advance with a guest blogger about how you will handle the copy, what publishing rights you are acquiring, and so on. The last thing you want is an unhappy guest blogger.

Choose wisely. Of all editorial activities, the most important is the decision whether to accept or reject a submission. When you publish a blog post, you are taking on legal and ethical responsibility for it. You don’t need to agree with your guest blogger’s point of view—in fact, it’s a good idea to look for a point of view that challenges yours. But you do need to make sure that it comports with the editorial mission of your blog.

Even if a guest post suits your mission, it may not warrant publication. If it seems too obvious, simply repeats other posts you’ve published, or will require too much work to make publishable, you may want to turn it down.

Above all, don’t agree to publish something before seeing it. Allow yourself leeway to turn something down once you’ve read it. It’s possible to reject a guest post gracefully and without creating hard feelings, but only if you haven’t already promised to use it.

Tidy up. At the very least, you must look for and fix typos and grammatical errors in guest posts. It’s one thing not to do this for your own writing: you have only yourself to blame. But you owe it to guest bloggers to show off their work in the best possible light by cleaning up obvious writing goofs. If your own grammar ain’t so hot, find a proofreader. There are plenty of good ones looking for work.

Avoid salvage operations. Once you’ve made the obvious fixes, you may see other changes that could improve the post. If they are relatively simple, you can suggest them to the author. But beware attempting too much reconstruction. I know from many years of rescuing submissions for B2B publications that with enough work you can make almost anything publishable. But the cost is high, and most of the time, you should avoid the effort. You’ll generally do better finding another author or writing your own post.

Ask for approval, not forgiveness. Editing is a collaborative art. No matter what changes you make to a guest post, whether it involves a single punctuation mark or a total makeover, you should allow your contributor to review the edited copy before publication. Most of the time, your contributors will be thankful for the fixes. But when they’re not, it’s better to find out before you click the “publish” button.

When you publish a guest post, you’re hoping to benefit yourself, your reader, and your contributor alike. A little thoughtful editing will help make sure you succeed.

Are you looking for a guest blogger? Or would you like to write for B2B Memes? Let me know.

Monetize Your Typos

Portrait by Joi Ito (, licensed CC-BY

Doctorow: Make money with typos

A while back, I lamented how social media seem to lead inevitably to the decline of editing and proofreading. I was given new hope this weekend, though, while listening to Leo Laporte’s podcast “This Week in Tech.” Towards the end, guest Cory Doctorow, the science fiction writer and Boing-Boing co-publisher, mentioned a publishing project that involved, among other things, offering readers incentives to alert him to typos.

Doctorow’s project, which he’s been documenting in his Publishers Weekly column, is a self-published short story collection called With a Little Help. His “freemium” model includes free e-books and audiobooks, donations, a print-on-demand (POD) paperback, a premium hardcover edition, advertisements, and a commission fee for a new short story.

Since this is a self-published project, Doctorow wants to keep expenses to a minimum, and that means no outlay for proofreading or copyediting. As he points out, the stories were all copyedited and proofread for their original publication in magazines, and his mother, a “king-hell proofer,” will help out. But the POD model offers a third option:

“Now, lots of people have used POD as a way of avoiding a lot of sunk costs in publishing ventures. But I want to see how far I can push it. With my previous books, my readers have sent in typos as they discovered them and I’ve fixed the electronic texts immediately, storing up lists of changes for my publisher to incorporate in future printings. But POD means that I can fix typos as soon as they’re reported, and what’s more, I can add an acknowledgment to the reader who caught it on the page where the correction appears, as a footnote. I have a feeling that readers will happily buy a second copy of the book in order to have a printing in which their name appears.”

As Doctorow put it on TWiT, he’s “monetized typos.”

The result is more likely to be a revenue trickle than a stream, and, if you took it seriously, it would give authors an incentive to include typos, or at least not to look for them too strenuously.

But the more meaningful exchange here is the payment Doctorow offers to his readers. By naming them in footnotes, he is rewarding them for finding errors.

Though it wouldn’t work in many forms of social media, this seems like a good tool for bloggers to employ. Of course, it requires the blogger to care enough to offer such an incentive. That comes naturally to a serious writer like Doctorow, but maybe not to the average blogger. It also requires a thick skin, something many writers manifestly lack.

So, in the spirit of Doctorow’s experimentation, I hereby offer a mention in my blog and a tweet to anyone who finds a typo or other error in my posts. If you’re a blogger, why not do the same?

Interviews: Confrontation or Critical Collaboration?

Lessons from David Pogue, Steve Jobs, and Leo Laporte

Was David Pogue too easy on Steve Jobs?

Was David Pogue too easy on Steve Jobs?

A recent kerfuffle in the blogosphere/podosphere involving New York Times tech columnist David Pogue offers B2B journalists and editors some interesting ethical issues to mull over. Pogue has been under attack for supposed conflicts of interest, first in an August 26 review of Apple’s Snow Leopard OS upgrade, then in his short interview with Steve Jobs following Apple’s announcement of new iPods.

Despite his affable personality, Pogue is a lightning rod for criticism, thanks to his reputation, fair or not, as an Apple fanboy and his privileged position as a popular Times columnist. The stage for this most recent imbroglio was set when Pogue published his mostly positive review of Snow Leopard. The review evidently irritated podcaster Leo Laporte, who had a largely negative opinion of the upgrade. It probably didn’t help that Pogue seemed to suggest in his review that Snow Leopard detractors were just “haters.” That implication provoked Laporte, on an episode of his flagship podcast, “This Week in Tech” (TWiT), to sarcastically proclaim “I am a hater; come and get me, David Pogue.”

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What B2B Can Learn from Jeff Jarvis, Part 4

Turning Cash Cows into Mini-Moos

What Would Google Do? By Jeff Jarvis. HarperBusiness, 2009.

In the previous three parts of this review of What Would Google Do?, I’ve looked at how Jarvis’s ideas apply to B2B in terms of its relation to readers, the impact of hyperlinks, and the shift from product journalism to process journalism. The last subject I’ll address is in some ways the most obvious and dramatic: the impact of these areas on the way we do business.

To begin with the most obvious point, as succinctly phrased by Jarvis, “print sucks.” He’s talking here not about the usability of print—give me a hardback over my Kindle in terms of sheer reading ease and pleasure—but about the burden it places on a print-based publisher. “It’s expensive to produce content for print, expensive to manufacture, and expensive to deliver. Print limits your space and your ability to give readers all they want. It restricts your timing and ability to keep readers up-to-the-minute. Print is already stale when its fresh.” And so on. Sure, there will always be a role for print—but it will a very small role indeed. So to the extent that you’re still in print, you need to think carefully about whether you should be.

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