Sunday, November 04, 2012

On The Beatles, Punctuation, Branding, Your Book and Wikipedia


I feel compelled to share with you (again) my feelings about Wikipedia. This time my take on the big Wiki is a little more wideranging. Now it's about Wikipedia, the Beatles, editing, and your book. My inspiration is an article The Wall Street Journal. On Oct. 16, it ran a full-page feature story on the—in my opinion—idiocy-factor of Wikipedia.

But let me back up. In the first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter I suggested that authors might install themselves on Wikipedia. Sometimes we need a dose of good marketing fun. Imagine feeling as if our author selves had made it sufficiently to be listed in an encyclopedia! I also thought it might give our self images a boost. And, of course, our credibility. I listed myself right after my first novel was published and it was a ball. I have a journalism background, so I was very careful to use strict journalistic ethical standards, avoid adjectives and adverbs, etc. To make a long story short, it didn't work out so well. You can read the sordid details in the second edition of The Frugal Book Promoter (http://budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo) where I revised my recommendation.

These days I suggest that writers only attempt using Wikipedia as part of their branding campaign if they have a bona fide publisher (by Wikipedia standards and it's anyone's guess what those standards might be!) who will do it for them and if they are not sensitive writerly types. In other words, you might enjoy it more if you have a really thick skin.

Then along comes The Journal article that tells about the very long running disagreement between Wikipedia "editors" on whether or not The Beatles should be "the Beatles" or "The Beatles." They have apparently been disputing this monumental punctuation and marketing choice issue, a debate "playing out behind the scenes" where apparently most of their debates are carried out which says something about their editorial transparency.

The Journal notes that Wikipedia has some 85,000 active editors "defined as those who record at least five edits per month." And they talk (and argue!) using a little edit link at the top of each page. According to The Journal, one editor claims it is getting worse because of "an overabundance of testosterone running around the pages." (About 90% of Wikipedia's editors are male and a huge percentage—more than half—of those editors say they've been in an argument with other editors in the last few months. And the arguments were on monumental issues like whether or not an image of cow tipping portrays this activity of rural youth appropriately. And, of course, on the Beatles issue.

I'm open to the idea that disagreement may in the long run lead to the accuracy of entries. In fact, that's the whole idea behind Wikipedia—that the truth (and full story) of any issue will eventually filter to the top and the dregs will filter away.

But that testosterone thing? Let's—to avoid argument over terms—call it authoritarianism or cases of terminal self-righteousness. It keeps those very things from happening, to say nothing of wasting time that would be unacceptable if the market place if those "editors" were being paid a salary or by the hour. Of if they had been selected on the basis of expertise rather than frequency.

What the Beatles issue boils down to is a style choice. (To learn more about style choices you may want to refer to my blog on editing at http://thefrugaleditor.blogspot.com or to The Frugal Editor at http://budurl.com/thefrugaleditor or Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande at http://budurl/grammarsnobs). And to branding.

If The Beatles wanted to use a capital "T" as they did on Ringo's drum and other advertising, then that branding should be honored when their name is used. That is their name. We all get to choose the names of our businesses, books, or bands and we get to choose how to capitalize them. The New York Times uses the "The" as part of their name and it's capped to indicate that. So does The Wall Street Journal. But that's rare. Most newspapers don't.

Perhaps Wikipedia needs firmer guidelines for their "editors." Perhaps those guidelines should include choosing a reliable style choice manual like Chicago Manual of Style (http://budurl.com/ChicMan) for their editors to follow.

Perhaps Wikipedia should have some guidelines for who they accept as editors apart from how often they contribute. Or separate out those who line edit from those who contribute content. And maybe requiring some editing experience would be a good idea. I mean, it wouldn't hurt this site to pay some writers or editors for their expertise.

These guys, maybe including the 10% of them who are women, need some reigning in when they hold power over which authors are acceptable to be included in their online encyclopedia—or which editors get to hold sway over the Beatles' brand. Of course, because of the disagreement, Wikipedia could just ban The Beatles from their book! They've been known to do that to authors.

Note: Sometimes you see "The Beatles" in this little rant. Sometimes you don't. That's because in my personal style book, I cap the "The" when I'm referring to the actual titles of the band and don't when I'm referring to something that belongs to The Beatles like their brand. Sometimes the choice is hard to make. I don't think it's worth getting into a frenzy over.

So now you know all about the relationship between Wikipedia, The Beatles, Marketing, Branding, and Punctuation. You know why such dilemmas might best be avoided altogether.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog:

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