Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rational Outrage Launches on March 17!

Not long ago, I mentioned in a post that there were just too many projects and not enough hours in the day (a feeling I know is familiar to many of you).

I'm excited to announce that despite all of the competing priorities, my webzine, Rational Outrage, will be launching on March 17.

The March 17 issue is set, but we're still accepting submissions for the March 31 edition until March 24, so check it out and let us know what you're outraged about. This is a paying market, though it's not MUCH pay at this point.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

5000 Words is About 20 Double-Spaced Pages

I suspect that most regular readers of this blog know that. I also suspect that most regular readers of this blog know that things like margins and even fonts can impact that number considerably, and so it's just a very loose guideline.

So do you find yourself wondering, "Just why did Tiffany decide, this morning, to make a gratuitous announcement about what 5000 words amounted to in terms of pages?

I'll tell you (you knew I would, didn't you?)

Some months ago, I found this question in my search traffic: "5000 Words is How Many Pages?"

Because I have another blog dedicated entirely to answering questions I find in my search statistics (though some more seriously than others), I wrote a post with that title.

Now, I get about a dozen visitors a day on related search strings. It's ALWAYS 5000 words. Here are a few of the recent searches that have landed people to that post:

5000 words how many pages
How many pages is 5000 words?
How many pages is 5000 words double-spaced?
5000 words = how many pages
5000 words = ? pages
5000 words in pages
5000 words double spaces
5000 words pages
How many pages in 5000 words?

All of these examples have been pulled from the past three days, and most of them appear multiple times. I found this a bit surprising and a little entertaining when it first started happening, but then I came to a couple of conclusions:

1. There are a lot of people out there who don't know how many pages 5000 words works out to and wish they did; and

2. Those people are much more likely to find other information of interest and use to them on THIS blog than on my search statistics blog.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Evolution of Punctuation

I am not a fan of the evolution of language. The idea that misuse of words ultimately develops into "new meaning" makes my brain explode, and I was dismayed about a year ago to come upon a line in St. Augustine's Confessions that seemed to suggest that this kind of distortion had been going on as early as the third century.

For the past few years, though, an ugly suspicion has been growing in my mind: a suspicion that the language and grammatical structure that I know and love and think should be frozen in time forever is itself the product of evolution. It all started when I noticed that C.S. Lewis used semi-colons in a manner inconsistent with proper usage. Or, I should say, CURRENT proper usage. It seemed unlikely to me that Lewis failed to grasp the appropriate use of a semi-colon, but after a bit of research failed to turn up anything conclusive, I decided to comfort myself with the assumption that the English used semi-colons somewhat differently than we Americans used them. I'd already learned from Lynne Truss that there were minor variations between British and American punctuation.

Sheldon Vanauken was American, and he'd used them in the same way, but he was a disciple of Lewis, and had studied at Oxford as well. It seemed reasonable that he might have adopted the British style; it seemed equally reasonable that he might have adopted Lewis's.

And I was untroubled, later, to discover the same format--the use of the conjunction "and" in combination with a semi-colon--in Jane Austen's work. British. Very British.

But Austen did something else that troubled me deeply: she used apostrophes in her possessive pronouns. "Her's" was disconcerting enough, but just a few pages later to be confronted with "their's"! I nearly swooned, and most certainly should have required attendance had there not been comfortable seating and clean air at ready access.

And, I am afraid, none of my excuses about British custom or emulation could explain the curious use of the semi-colon in the SECOND SENTENCE of the very first of The Federalist Papers . After a period of steadfast resistance in the face of all evidence to the contrary, I find myself forced to consider the possibility that semi-colons have not always been limited to the artful attachment of two otherwise independent sentences, and that they have instead been applied in a variety of circumstances in which their only function seems to have been to keep a sentence from going on too long without division.

I find myself unequal to the circumstances.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Know Your Audience: It's Easier Said Than Done for Bloggers

Last week, after a discussion thread on Blog Catalog about all of the "make money blogging" blogs out there, I wrote something I planned to post here on RockStories. It was a parody of those posts that many of us run across ten times a day on blogs and in forums, titled "I Made $XX Online in January!" and filled with helpful tips on how you could, too. Except that the "XX" was my actual January online income and my helpful tips included things that have helped me earn a living from home, like obtaining an advanced degree from a first-tier school and securing the assistance of a rock star at a critical point in your career development.

Usually I draft my posts right here in blogger and post them immediately, but I had some reservations about whether this one would be recognized for what it was, and so I sent it out to two friends and asked them if the point was clear or if it sounded condescending. Both are mothers with professional backgrounds working in creative fields. One felt strongly that it sounded condesceding and braggy, and that there had to be a better way to make the point. The other said it was funny and not the least bit condescending and I should post it right away.

Naturally, I did nothing. But I did start thinking about an issue that's bigger than whether or not that particular post would be well received: "know your audience" is a standard in the writing profession, but that's not as easy in the blogging world as it is when you're writing for other kinds of publication.

If I'm writing for a parenting magazine, or a humor magazine, or a writing website I have a pretty good idea of who my readers will be. Just as important, they have a pretty good idea of what to expect when they type in that URL or flip open the magazine. And that's true for some bloggers, as well. It's true for bloggers who write within a narrow niche, and for those who have a strong regular readership. But the vast majority of traffic to my blogs comes from search engines, which leaves me with little information about those visitors. And even the regular visitors come, I think, more for something about my writing style or perspective than subject matter--I think that because I have a writing blog, a dog blog, a personal blog, a Catholic blog, a social commentary blog and a search engine humor blog, and a surprising number of those who subscribe to or regularly read one read several (or all) of them.

There are some broad perspectives out there, depending on which blog they started with. Even these two good friends of mine, who know my style and my perspective well, had two very different takes on the same piece. With a little reflection, the reason was obvious: one of them works online and daily encounters the kind of posts I was parodying, so that the format and intent were immediately recognizable to her. The other doesn't frequent the kind of blogs and forums and such where those posts appear.

But what about the rest of the world? I just don't know. I'm certain that if I posted that piece, I'd have readers who thought it was hilarious and dead-on and cheered me on for it. I'm equally sure that I'd have readers who weren't familiar with the format and thought I was bragging about my income and my education and my connections. And I'm suddenly concerned about just how many other topics and approaches and perspectives might trigger exactly this kind of conundrum.