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A Celebration of Simply Dreadful Prose

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Vol. 7, Issue No. 11 | September 20, 2011 By Denny Hatch
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When It's Right to 'Unwrite'
As an avid stitcher in my spare time, I often have to rip out my work to fix mistakes. My fellow stitchers jokingly call this "reverse stitching." As a writer of nonfiction for young people and adults, I often find myself doing something very similar. I call it "unwriting"—and it's no fun.

What's particularly frustrating about unwriting is how unpredictable and time consuming it is. The story will be moving along and then, out of nowhere, it will stall out. This happened about a third of the way through my book on Prohibition for young people ... I pressed on, writing a few pages one day and deleting them the next. Then I'd do it again. A week passed, and I was still stuck.

Finally, with books across my desk and articles across my lap, it hit me: I didn't need this section at all ... Thanks to unwriting, days of work became a mere 10 lines of text. Just as often, unwriting is required to overcome my irrational attachment to certain facts or stories.
Karen Blumenthal
The Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2011
Last year, Amazon announced that e-book Kindle editions were outselling print books.

Amazon also announced that it will publish Kindle books at no charge.

For the last eight years, I have been reworking a novel in my computer. On my website, I offered a free PDF copy of the unpublished manuscript in return for a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" rating. Thirteen people read it—mostly strangers—and all gave it thumbs up with incredibly long and thoughtful reviews.

I recently re-read the novel and decided to give it a shot on Kindle with a selling price of $2.99 to see if it fogs the mirror.

I uploaded it into Kindle and downloaded the sample. It looked terrific, but with one serious screw-up. None of the paragraphs were indented. The entire book was comprised of 185 pages of solid "gray walls of type" and unreadable.

After hours of searching the Internet two sad facts became apparent:

• Amazon turned the conversion programming over to a bunch of techies whose minds were in the cloud and who had no understanding of a customer’s needs.

• The Internet is swarming with self-styled experts that cannot write the English Language.

Amazon's Conversion Problem
When the sample of the book came back with zero paragraph indents, I emailed Amazon for help. The reply was mind-boggling:

The Kindle format does not internally support tab characters or consecutive spaces. For this reason the paragraphs in your book are not being indented after uploading to the KDP website.

OK, I could live without the use of tabs. It's easy to convert the indent tabs to five spaces, and it would look fine.

The Kindle format can make only one space. The idea that it cannot make two consecutive spaces—or five spaces—is preposterous.

I just finished a splendid book on my Kindle, "The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by Steve Wick. It was seriously riddled throughout with spacing errors. In 70 years of reading books, I have never come across a series of distractions this blatant caused by publisher incompetence.

Amazon needs to get with its program.

Searching the Internet for Help
Enter "Kindle paragraph indent" into Google, and you’ll get 168,000 hits. Clearly this is a problem.

Worse, I spent hours crawling through forums, discussion threads and the wisdom of experts and came up dry—gobbledygook, gibberish, hooey, unusable formulas and the labored prose of self-styled experts explaining how smart they are to have uncovered the problem, but were unable to tell me how to fix it in simple, down-to-earth English.

Takeaways to Consider

  • When sending out a press release, the email addresses of the recipients should go as BCCs. When they are in the body of the press release, the sender 1) has given away his private list of contacts for others to steal; 2) looks like a jerk. Duh.
  • In a press release, a writer that puts all words in lower case looks like a jerk and will not be taken seriously. Duh.
  • "I have long believed there are two other warring camps. Those who write down-to-earth English that can be understood and those who write business gobbledygook." —David Ogilvy (as reported by Drayton Bird)
  • When writing isn’t going well and you can’t make it work, "unwrite." Delete and move on. Ruthlessly self-edit. 
  • Boring prose on the Internet is a mouse click away from oblivion.
  • Before you click "Send" and make a thing "live across the Internet," ask a friend or colleague to give it the once-over.
  • When bad prose—or copy filled with grammatical and spelling errors—goes out over the Internet, it will follow you to the grave and beyond. Should you care? You will if it is discovered by the HR director of a company where you are a job candidate. 
  • When sending an important email, send it to yourself first in order to see how it looks to the person receiving it. If OK, send it. If not, make fixes and keep sending to yourself again and again until you are completely satisfied that this is precisely what you want the person to see.


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Most Recent Comments:
Jeff Steele - Posted on September 20, 2011
"Lyttony" - very clever. Not so much: Using high school essays which were clearly tongue-in-cheek to bolster an otherwise valid argument.
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Archived Comments:
Jeff Steele - Posted on September 20, 2011
"Lyttony" - very clever. Not so much: Using high school essays which were clearly tongue-in-cheek to bolster an otherwise valid argument.