Me and the Mustard

Mmm...mustard on daikon/carrot pickle (do chua)
Image by Jeffrey W

Much has been said good and bad about using the first person singular — me, myself and I — in social media and other forms of writing. It’s a voice of free expression or the epitome of narcissism.

So what should an aspiring writer do?

The first person voice provides a narrative view or discussion with the author as a keep participant in the post. The author’s point of view is clearly presented. But because of grammar weaknesses, traditional writing courses still frown upon me, myself and I, and encourage third person pronoun usage.

Initially, when blogging became popular first person singular usage was viewed as a breath of fresh air, infusing personality into a world of stiff, formal business writing. The new perspective was delightful, offering unprecedented insights into corporations with well manicured images and boring messaging.

But then Internet fame happened. Some bloggers took the acclaim seriously, and the “Is” flew more and more liberally. Sharing personal experiences became excessive, and writing became an act of self embellishment.

A backlash has begun. Cries of narcissism and even self loathing of narcissistic behavior have arisen. Studies show that while initially popular, narcissists lose traction in deeper meaningful relationships over time. In that sense, blogging provides the perfect cover for the narcissist. The relationship with readers is shallow, yet the admiration is public and highly visible. So close, yet so far away.

Does that mean the word, “I” is the tip-off, a sign of the self-centered soul? No, not necessarily. The first person singular can be used well, to share personal experiences of value, to highlight what one person did, and how those events turned out. It can even be used to express the opinion of the voice, which can be highly entertaining if they are a bonafide subject matter expert.

Like all things, if one intends to partake, healthy moderation makes it go down easier. Since it’s the Fourth of July, consider the traditional hot dog. How good is a hot dog drowning in mustard? It’s not (of course, some reader will protest). Basting a hot dog with too much mustard spoils the taste of the meat, the roll and other condiments. It’s all mustard and that’s no good.

If one intends to blog first person, it takes a deft hand. Like the hot dog, first person is best done in moderation. It should present a point of view, rather than becoming the center of discussion. Frequency is a big tip off. An average of one I per paragraph or less shows an experience, but an average of one I per sentence is pretty blatant in its self centeredness.

What do you think of the first person singular?

Everyone Has Written a Book!

Contraband - Now Is Gone

Go to enough social media conferences (like two maximum), and you will inevitably have a conversation about the cliche, “Everyone’s written a book.” This meme references the seemingly endless proliferation of social media books published. Consider this author a two-timer in that sense. But in reality, the meme isn’t true.

It’s really hard to write a book. This brutal, laborious process takes months, including endless rewrites and revisions, all part of a difficult editing process. This commitment to write everyday for very little money also significantly sacrifices numerous portions of your personal life. It can endanger your personal relationships and your physical well being. Having completed four books (two business published, two unpublished novels), these texts took almost three years to write… Before editing.

Scores of social media bloggers have been asked to write books because they have already demonstrated they can produce content on a regular basis (in addition to the ongoing demand for subject matter knowledge). Publishers figure the blogger can actually put in the effort necessary to succeed. Writing a book requires the daily commitment that many bloggers have already demonstrated.

But if you think the actual book writing is the hardest aspect of the process, you are sorely mistaken. It is the easy part.

Moving $15 Books

Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra)
Amber Naslund discusses the Now Revolution at last Friday’s YouToo 2011 Conference.

Book marketing beats the spirit out of authors. It requires travel, events, clever blogging and updates with a consistent focus on the same thing. You feel like a broken record talking about the same thing over and over again. It takes great creativity to make the same topic seem fresh over and over again.

There is non-stop pressure from a publisher to move books. Publishers provide almost no support for marketing (their editing support is questionable, too), insisting that their authors do the work. Publishes ask YOU, the author to hire a publicist these days. If you can’t market your own book then it won’t sell.

As a result, very rarely do you see Gary Vaynerchuk types of book deals. Books don’t sell without significant marketing, and Gary has one hell of a following. In 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. These days, the average book sells less than 250 copies a year. Most books fail, and the publishing industry won’t invest in the average book.

About the only thing publishers really do is provide access to Amazon, Barnes & Noble online and most importantly, shelf space at book stores. Unfortunately, distribution is hit or miss depending on the the publisher (and their faith in the book). Now that the Kindle and other readers are starting to dominate the market, brick and mortar book stores are closing throughout the United States. This in turn, even further diminishes the value that publishers bring to bear.

Given that so much of the work relies on the author, the very low financial reward, and the declining power of publisher distribution, self publishing makes more and more sense. It’s something that will definitely happen personally, if only for the novels (publishers see fiction as even less viable option than business books).

Of course, that truly means that everyone can write a book. Now if only they can actually write it; figure out the editing, publishing and distribution processes, and of course, market the book. That all assumes the book concept is actually interesting and worth reading. So since everyone has written a book, where is yours?

How Not Talking About Myself Doubled Blog Traffic In One Month

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In an effort to increase writing quality, one month ago this blog took on the Me, Myself and I Challenge. The behind the challenge assumes that by eradicating obvious references to blogger narcissism via the words “my, myself and I,” people would find the content on the blog much more interesting. Indeed, the above results overwhelmingly confirm the theory.

Traffic increased by 100%! And it was the first time this personal blog surpassed its predecessor — the professional communications blog, the Buzz Bin — in traffic.

One post went semi-viral — How the Grinch Stole Green Christmas — bringing in a vast majority of the traffic. In addition, overall traffic to main site URL increased by roughly 20%. RSS subscriptions increased by 12%. Retweet and Facebook shares also increased.

At the same time, the additional traffic also brought a dramatic drop in read time (Grinch averaged 1:22) with the a 60% drop in read time. People left quicker, also demonstrated with a slight decrease in page views (7%). However, the bounce rate improved slightly by (3%). Traffic increased, but the type reader also expanded, and the content was less compelling for these new readers. The old quantity versus quality debate could be waged at this point (Metcalfe’s Law).

Subjective Writer Observations

Overall, removing first person pronouns increased the quality of writing on the site, as evidenced by the generally positive trend of statistics. It also increased from the writer’s perspective.

While slightly more challenging, opinion is still obvious as the author. If one states it, then they must think it. In fact, the tone seemed more authoritative, relying on links and facts to justify opinions rather than conjecture. In context, losing the words me, myself and I were not so hard.

At the same time, it was not easy to stray off topics outside of business and activism. So parenting and personal activity posts were removed because of the Me, Myself and I challenge. While such posts can be written without the first person pronouns, they are not easily done so, perhaps a sign of how personal these matters are. Facebook provided an easy substitute medium for such conversations.

Moving forward, the experiment seems worth continuing. Beyond the traffic, the posts just felt better with the less self-centered tone. And building a blog — whether one for personal purposes or a client’s site — is always a fun challenge. As readers did you enjoy the blog more over the past month?

The El Show Episode 36: Obama and Hemingway (Why Not?)

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Episode 36 of the El Show featured McCain’s possible fall from electoral success, should Obama even run in 2012, and writers (what makes one).

Here’s the breakdown of Episode 36:

  • McCain runs out of political capital
  • The state of political dissatisfaction
  • Should Obama not run in 2012? Issues with tissues. Geoff explains why, Richard throws some cold water on Geoff to wake him up!
  • Pundits in Mass Media don’t matter as much anymore
  • .

  • Hollywood dreams to be a writer, but what does that mean?
  • The Moveable Feast writing era of Hemingway and Paris in the 1920s
  • Summer is here: Richard is heading to Tel Aviv, Israel!
  • Geoff reads Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises: “Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s. She started all that.”

Download or listen to the El Show Episode 36 today! Also available on iTunes!