Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Why the Google Instant "Blacklist of Words" matters for your book title

Whether we like it or not, Google and other search engines dominate our experience of the web. Until the semantic web is a reality or other significant advances are made in how we search for and find information and products on the Internet, we are subject to the mindsets and rules of others.

Google Instant is a recent function where the search engine uses smart algorithms to predict what it is you are searching for. Mostly this is useful.  However, there is a blacklist of certain words which when typed, halt the instant search function.  Why does this matter for book titles? If your book title starts with a blacklisted word then Google Instant is turned off as soon as it works out what you're typing. No suggestions are offered. This means a potential reader or purchaser need to know the exact name of your book to find it.  This limitation doesn't happen on booksellers' online pages - at the moment.

Test out the following on Google search:

  • what happens when you search for Cathy Yardley's book, Ravish: The Awakening of Sleeping Beauty
  • any book on the topic of lesbian issues; fiction or otherwise

I can see what Google is trying to achieve by avoiding inappropriate search suggestions for any children on line. However, there are wider implications not only for Google Instant but also for their SafeSearch option.  Did you know potentially offensive (to Google) pages are removed from the initial search options once enter is hit?

If you are researching topics where the words may be blacklisted you can get round this by using smart searching terms, like using quotes to search for exact phrases ("catcher in the rye") or being more clear about what to include and exclude in the search (catcher+rye -baseball -farm).

In the meantime, choosing a book title where the first word is not on a search blacklist may be a good sales and marketing strategy.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Knowing your eggcorn from your acorn

Photo from
The literary web is awash with discussion about Sarah Palin's use of refudiate, a new word she invented covering both refute and repudiate. Making up words is akin to spelling existing words incorrectly. Eggcorns are those words which are spelt like they sound (blame phonetic language learning at school) and where they become common use.

elk for ilk
youthamism for euphemism
impremature for imprimatur
cacoughany for cacophony
waver for waiver

The Eggcorn Database records 630 eggcorns...

So let's see how many eggcorns I can get into a sentence:

'A cacoughany of dispair greeted the politician who in her youthemism  refudiated the possibility of her words being impremature.'

Friday, 17 September 2010

What is an ebook?

If the question "What is an ebook?" came from my mother I would be surprised as she knows what one is. When I was asked the question by a librarian, I was stunned.

I was going to write a post describing what an ebook is and decided not to as the Internet is full of information.  Just use your search engine and ask your question.

What? You don't know what a search engine is.


Friday, 10 September 2010

I've started ... so... oh dear, when will I finish?

I do have an excellent digital filing system. The disadvantage is the incomplete writing projects are neatly arranged, in date order. Ten years of starting and not finishing is languishing on my hard drive. Many of these projects are short stories or small pieces of writing that I am hoping one day will morph into something more useful.  It's not that I don't produce completed writing - I do, and lots of it. I'm just feeling a bit guilty about the things that got started and then faded away.

Rather than list out all the reasons why there are so many loose ends, I have written myself a 5 point mantra to help me focus on getting to the end of a variety of writing projects.

  1. Prioritise which two writing projects are the best ones to complete
  2. Keep the new ideas in the writing journal before starting them as a project
  3. Curb my perfectionism; better to complete a draft than get stuck eternally on the beauty of the second paragraph
  4. Test out setting aside a whole day to write an article or story, rather than do it in fits and starts. End the day with completed draft
  5. Promise myself not to go surfing (Internet or on the sea) until a committed project has been completed
So let's see these ideas help me marshal some early starters into completed works.


Sunday, 5 September 2010

Man Booker Prize 2010 iPhone App review

The Man Booker Prize 2010 is the first literary prize to launch an iPhone app.

Installing on an iPhone 4 was quick from the Apple app store. No registration  is required.

The key features are:

  • list of the long listed books (obviously...) and this list will be automatically updated when the short list is announced (7th September)
  • Each book has 
    • thumbnail of the book
    • short synopsis
    • excerpt
    • author's biography
    • audio extract
    • button to buy which conveniently does not go to only one online store; there is you local bookstore (uses the GPS function), Amazon, Foyles, lay, Waterstones, WH Smith
    • two options which look like they will be available later: interview and video
  • List and details of the judges with a short biography
  • Bookshops option which takes you to a map and based on your location will find one nearby
  • Archive of all the Booker Prizes back to 1969 which is a really useful reminder of not only the winners but those who nearly made it
  • Page each for information about the Man Group plc sponsors and about the Booker Prize itself
If you want to be the first to know about news on each stage of the prize process then turn on Push Notifications.

This app scores highly in my works-well-for-dummies rating as it is designed for the user rather than the geek, has excellent content and uses the iphone fancy features in a way that is does not deter from the topic of the app.

The Man Booker Prize winner for 2010 will be announced on 12th October.

Booker Longlist 2010: What point of view POV are they written in?

In a fairly non-scientific piece of research I looked at a sample of each of the thirteen long listed books for the 2010 Man Booker Prize to see what point of view they are written in. Specifically I was checking to see how many are in the 1st person.

It's common knowledge that agents and publishers don't like the 1st person. Yet on a similar "review" process in a bookshop in Canada (Montreal, June 2010) I found seven out of ten novels on the ranked bestseller shelf were in the 1st person. Are the readers voting with their pockets for the more intimate 1st person?

I found two of the Man Booker Longlist to be in the 1st person

  1. Room by Emma Donaghue
  2. Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
It will be interesting if these make it on the short list.  More interesting if one of them wins.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Lux Theatre Production 1945

Audiobooks are a useful way to read while you cook or garden. Rather than pay iTunes for the unabridged audiobook on Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, I downloaded the free radio dramatisation of the movie of the same name starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.

It is a fabulous recording and worth listening to if only for the 1945 advertisements for Lux soap that begin and end the major scenes. I'll still need to read the book and will do so with the sound of two stars in my head as I do so.

This is part of the blurb on iTunes:

This radio dramatisation of the classic movie features Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman re-creating their Academy Award-nominated roles. It aired on February 19, 1945. The Lux Radio Theatre was one of radio's most popular series attracting Hollywood's top stars and boasting a lavish budget.

I've discovered all the recordings from Lux Radio Theatre are available online (not only on iTunes) so will work my way through them.

(Photo from

Thursday, 2 September 2010

How to name a fictional character

About half way through the first draft of a novel based in South Africa in 1901 I felt my main character had the wrong name. On the one hand making the change in the document using "find/replace" was easy and on the other I was surprised at the impact of the change. Relationships in the book changed as a result and so did some other names. I'd like to avoid this happening so made a list of things to think about when naming fictional characters.

1. Be age and context appropriate
A forty year old Afrikaner woman in 1901 will have a name distinctively different from a twenty year old English woman from the Midlands in 2010.  I know this sounds obvious, however, I found out the hard way that some names are more contextual than others.

2. Be creative but not overly so
When I read books where all the characters are Jack, Jane, Andy, Mike, Lucy - type names I get lost. They are insufficiently distinctive. When I am presented with a novel containing a large number of first and surnames that are difficult to remember, or pronounce, then I end up exhausted. So for me it is a balance. I'm not convinced that sci-fi novel need a cast with completely unpronounceable names. For fun try out a random name generator.

3. Check how much the character makes the name and the name makes the character
Does Cosmo Baracchus grow into a different character than Ethel Jones? I think so.  My recent lesson is a character can outgrow their name.

4. The sound and colour of the name
How many syllables are there in the name? Is it soft or jarring in sound? Does it invoke a colour or other image?

5. Check the meaning and the translation into other languages
Most names have meanings and while I haven't made most of my character name choices using baby-naming dictionaries, I have checked there is no obvious dissonance between the name's meaning and the character's actions.