Friday, 27 August 2010


Words are powerful things, and some of the highest-paid wordsmiths aim to use them to influence our spending. There is no denying they can be incredibly efffective, too - I can still remember sales and marketing slogans from my youth. Slogans like 'Beanz meanz Heinz', 'Bring out the Branston' and 'Go to work on an egg'.

Nowadays you might think that advertising would be more effective than ever before. Advances in technology, a deeper understanding of the psychology of buying and greater disposable income should surely combine to create massive opportunties for 'savvy' sales and marketing people.

However, I'm not sure that's the case. In the past, television adverts were beamed into my living room and, even if I didn't actively listen to them, they played out in the background. These days, when the adverts come on - and there are more of them than ever before, it seems - I more often than not hit the 'mute' button. Not because I hate the adverts, necessarily, but because they are so loud, they become intrusive. I use an adblocker programme to avoid adverts on the Internet. I rarely buy a newspaper, becuse I use online news sites. I buy magazines, but generally skip past the ad pages without reading them.

Then, of course, there are the adverts I actively avoid. Should a BT ad, featuring the truly appalling Adam and Jane, or any Halifax ad, appear on my television, I risk injury with the speed at which I reach for the remote to either mute the sound or change channel. I will not entertain them. BT still have an element of monopoly about their services, so I have no choice but to be a customer - although I buy no more from them than I must - and the Halifax will never have my business. As a direct result of their advertising, I choose to avoid them.

In fact, I have trouble thinking of anything I have bought as the result of advertising, yet none whatsoever thinking of things I would not buy. Perhaps those cunning sales and marketing people aren't so clever after all!

Monday, 23 August 2010

'I' before 'E'...

I'm partway through a Chapterhouse proofreading and copy-editing course and it has had an odd effect on me. (I should say that proofreading and copy-editing are things I have been doing for a long time, not things that are new to me; I just felt it would be a good idea to formalise my skills and obtain a certificate of competence to prove my ability to prospective employers.) I have long believed that my spelling and grammar skills are pretty good. Despite this, I routinely check words in the dictionary when completing exercises that are part of the course, or completing work for employers.

This has had a dual effect: on the one hand, it has shown me that I can spell and that my grammar is good, which is very reassuring. On the other, it has highlighted some words that I believed I knew how to spell and that I have apparently been mistaken about. For example, it turns out it's 'nerve-racking', not 'nerve-wracking', 'no one', not no-one', and 'doll's house', not dolls' house'.

These are only small things and yet they challenge assumptions and beliefs, which I welcome, since they also lead to learning and improvement. I expected to enjoy the course, and I do; as a bonus I am also, it seems, learning more than I expected to!

Friday, 20 August 2010

So what are words worth?

I'd never really given much thought to this until I tried earning a living as a writer, and the answer has to be - it depends. On the surface of it, freelance writers should be awash with work - never before has so much been required to be written, what with the Internet, information for companies, books, magazines and newspapers... the list goes on. And whilst most people can write, fewer can write well enough for publication. (Not that that necessarily stops them!)

However, there seems to be a lot of people out there who want words for next to nothing. Just this week, I have seen the following freelance jobs advertised:

  • A number of 500-600 word articles for the Internet, at £2 each
  • A short e-book for £50-£150
  • A novel to be ghostwritten for £1,000-£5,000
 And although, as a fellow freelancer commented: 'We do this for a living, not for petrol money', each of those jobs attracted a number of bids from freelancers who were prepared to work for a great deal less than minimum wage. Words, it seems are not valued very highly at all!

And yet there are good jobs out there, reasonable employers who know that you get what you pay for and that for someone to be motivated, they need to be paid a living wage. They seem sometimes to be very much in the minority, but they do exist. It's just very, very disheartening when people devalue writers and writing by either offering or accepting such pitifully poor rates of pay for what is - in the right hands - a highly skilled job.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Um... is this thing on?

So, here we are for the first post of yet another blog about those things so many of us enjoy - words, of course! And just as I was wondering what to blog about in my inaugural post, I find a poor review of one of my books on Amazon. Well, I say a poor review... in all fairness, accusing a ten-year-old out-of-print book of being dated is probably not the worst that could have been said. I do wonder, however, why the person in question bothered to say it at all, since it would very much seem to be stating the obvious. Far more annoying is the fact that the review also pops up for the new edition of the book, which is due out at the end of September. Not yet in print and already slammed for being out of date - that may be a record!