Oh My! Does How We Write Really Matter?

Guest Post by Irene Watson

Well…it sure makes me think it doesn’t matter anymore.  In last week’s editorial I gave you two examples, both from authors, indicating the inability to read or write.  Well…this week you just have to see what was received from “professionals” in the publishing industry.

A publicist for a publishing company wrote me:

Hi Irene [name removed] here again this is the kind or stuff thats put in there so anything type of info for example pictures our any blurbs on how a event went for [name removed] would be great… i’m new at this so i appreciate any help you can offer.

Frankly, I’m appalled I would get an email like this from someone attempting to represent an author.  Would you believe I was actually stuck for words on what to say to the publisher other than just forward the email to him and tell him I’m appalled at how unprofessional his staff is? What really upsets me is this person is asking me to help her promote an author for which I instigated a contract to have the book published with this traditional publisher.So yes, I have reason to be horrified and go directly to the publisher because I have a vested interest in the book.

But, then maybe it’s just the nature of people and I haven’t quite “gotten it.” David Belkin emailed me saying:

I had a job some 62 years ago (I’m 82) at NBC, answering letters from the public. Many of them were inquiries from would-be TV/radio writers, to whom I sent rules for submissions. Most of the responses were on a par with the examples in your blog. Technology changes, people don’t. Thanks for the memory trip.

A little backstory on this next one. We’ve posted some reviews on BarnesAndNoble.com but many have been rejected because of “inappropriate language.”  A notice on our account page says if we edit the review they would reconsider posting it.  Well, one truth is there is no way to edit the submission and the other is there is absolutely nothing in the review that is inappropriate or even anything remotely close.  I got no response from my emails and no satisfaction from phone calls so I just let it go assuming they were competing for poor customer service with Amazon.com.  Another review service, Feathered Quill, was also having the same issue, however; she did get a response which goes like this:

We reviewed your concerns regarding editing your review. Your feedback is very important to us at Barnes & Noble and we appreciate your taking the time to send us your opinion. We assure you that we have reviewed the issues you have raised with the appropriate department. We truly
value your patronage; your online shopping experience is extremely important to us.

It’s obvious this is a stock email and the person sending it doesn’t have a clue what is going on otherwise Ellen wouldn’t be thanked for the patronage and told the “shopping” experience is important to them.  Shopping experience?  What does editing a review have to do with shopping experience?  It’s also obvious that there have been enough complaints for them to create a stock email to send out and supposedly pacify the reader.  I personally think they have a technical issue that no one knows how to fix and wouldn’t admit it.  This issue is near 8 months old. To me it says Barnes and Nobel suits really don’t care what customer support sends out.

But wait…here is a real doozie sent from Amazon.com to one of their customers attempting to close one account because he had two:

When researched the account, I see two accounts, with the name [name removed] (Seller ID: …) and [name removed] (Seller ID: …), out of which the one with the Seller ID: … is closed.    

Please let us know as to which account you want to close so that we can go ahead and do the needful.

Huh?  Account is closed but he needs to know what account needs to be closed?  Even trying to decipher this gives me a headache.

I looked up “do the needful” on Wikipedia because I suspected this might be a cultural expression and this is what it says:

“Do the needful” is an archaic expression which means “do that which is necessary”, with the respectful implication that the other party is trusted to understand what needs doing without being given detailed instruction.

The expression is now current mainly in South Asian English (Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan). The expression was current in both British[1] and American English[2] well into the early 20th century. In later years it was sometimes used as parody example of contemporary South Asian English.

This is so sad it becomes comical. 

It is obvious the suits at Amazon.com have no concept of what is going on in their customer service department either or let alone care whether the support staff use archaic or language not customary in the Western world where the majority of their customers reside.    

I’m a baby boomer with English as my second language but I gave my all-out to learn the language so I wouldn’t be categorized into some paradoxical faction of using archaic or regional language. (Canadian, eh?) Or, maybe I am the one that is archaic and setting my standards and expectations too high for the emerging 21st century professionals. Nope…I don’t think so or at least I wouldn’t admit it, ya’ll.

So what is your take on all this?

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find  reviews  of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity  and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.


Posted on February 26, 2012, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Hi Irene– Everything you've written about (the creeping ignorance in our culture and expression) makes my flesh crawl. During the 25 years I've been in PR (first representing others; now representing myself as a speaker, author & Your Best Life Coach) I have received incredibly botched resumes from people who thought I might hire them to articulate client success. Amazing!Recently I submitted an article to an electronic publication in Atlanta and somehow every single quotation mark, as well as correctly used apostrophes, disappeared from the copy in its finished form online. I commented to the editor/publisher but I don't think she has time to care–she's scrambling to fill her magazine and scrape together some revenue to keep it going. Keep beating the drum– although I think txt-gen is following a totally different drummer.

  2. Hi, Irene,Your columns this issue and last have inspired me to dust off a series of courses on writing in the workplace that I developed during an earlier recession. Now, though, I would change them to a series of ebooks that individuals could download to improve their writing skills.I see a major difficulty, however: marketing them to the right audience. I know that in today's world, the author must be a marketer as well a writer. In fact, I've spent the past year marketing my self-published books (What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants and the newly released ebook Freelance Fee Setting: Quick Guide for When a Client Demands a Price NOW). But how would I market books to improve one's own writing when those who need them most clearly do not recognize their problem?Laurie Lewis

  3. Patrice, unfortunately readers will not even realize the editor/publisher of the publication allowed the article to post as if it was unedited. The end-all blame will be on you, the author, which doesn't show credibility on your part. I'm sorry to hear some editors/publishers of publications have no concern.

  4. Oh Laurie, that is a dilemma. If those that write like the examples I gave have no concern whatsoever they wouldn't even entertain the thought of registering for a writing improvement workshop/course, let alone even read this article. Personally, I think it would be a waste of time and energy trying to market to that group; a better choice would be to market to those that want to improve the writing skills they already have.

  5. I want to report joyful resolution of an issue with the big A! I never thought it would happen, but we were able to communicate with said (or unsaid) organization's customer service desk, have them hear us, and respond to our issue in our favor.Note that I do not name the organization. This is out of fear of retribution and superstitious dread. Also, as the say in sales––the deal's not done until the buyer's check clears the bank. So it still could blow up, but we got a germ of hope.

  6. Irene, I refuse to believe you are \\\"archaic\\\" or have set your \\\"standards and expectations too high for the emerging 21st century professionals.\\\" You aren't complaining about a writer's violating some technical rule. For example, I cringe whenever I read \\\"a person that\\\" or \\\"people that.\\\" In my own writing \\\"that\\\" has to be \\\"who.\\\" And yet I'm willing to admit that I appear to be on the losing side of this argument. (Apparently because the use of \\\"that\\\" means the writer doesn't have to worry about sometimes using \\\"whom,\\\" which to many readers in 2012 seems too formal and stuffy.) Nor are you railing against the occasional spell-checker-proof typo such as \\\"its\\\" for \\\"it's\\\" or \\\"their\\\" for \\\"there\\\" or \\\"they're.\\\"I'm inclined to agree with David Belkin that many would-be writers have always thought writing comes naturally and doesn't require countless hours of study and practice to make it great or even serviceable. On the other hand, the Internet and the independent publishing boom have led many of these wannabes and the people they deal with to throw out revision and editing with all the other things, such as pitches to literary agents, they no longer have to worry about. Sitting in front of their lap-tops in perfect solitude, they're in their own little worlds. They know what they're trying to say in their email messages. They don't give a thought to what the recipients might get out of them.A few of them will see what they're doing wrong, put in the time and effort required, and succeed. Most of them, though, will fail. And I'll shed no tears for them.

  7. Hi Irene,I continue to smile about your persistent sense of humor and patience regarding the two systemic failures within the writing/publishing community. The first is the failure within the community of writers to police themselves so that their work meets a minimum standard of quality. The simplest solution to this is for every writer to hang a large fluorescent poster on the wall of his or her workspace which reads: "Did you read the whole thing out loud first?"The second is a much more difficult failure to corral: It is a systemic failure within the on-line publishing and publicity platforms to provide reliable correctability. Some examples: A few years ago I entered the Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest and was awarded honorable mention for my entry. The entry listed after mine on the contest site was attributed to me on Google listings. I spent many long hours, emails and letters attempting to contact Google about the wrong attribution. To this day it has not been corrected. Barnes and Noble.com tends to remove quotation marks and apostrophes in its review postings. Amazon.com is a mystery — recently I was pleasantly surprised by their reliable personal help in getting a book formatted for e-publication on their Kindle Publishing site. In return I tactfully outlined some major concerns about their publishing platform, among them the inability for authors to correct pages within the uploaded documents, either before or after publication. Amazon.com still needs to re-define its book review regulations, and allow all reviews from all sources unless they are clearly inappropriate.Writing is about communication, and unless the data from the writer's brain is understood clearly by the reader's brain, the communication needs polishing. Proper punctuation is absolutely necessary. If somebody were to write, "I helped my uncle, Jack, off his horse," it generates a much different image than the txt-spk, "i helped my uncle jack off his horse."'Nuff said.

  8. For the record, I didn't put those three slanted lines in front of the quotation marks in my comment above. Anybody know where they came from?

  9. Ron, it looks like hidden code was transferred. This sometimes happens if we copy from Word doc and paste it to a system that uses html. The system will pick up the hidden code and do what the code says to do – in your case, the instruction was to put in slanted lines aka backward slash. In the html world the forward or backward slash give specific instruction.

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