And never start a sentence with a conjunction!

A good friend of mine was actually taught in school that a sentence should never begin with a conjunction. In other words, a sentence shouldn’t be started with “And”, “Or”, “But”, etc. And she’s not the only one. Many people have been taught this, even though it is complete nonsense. Even today, you will find idiots on the internet claiming that this is the proper way.

The reality is that the use of conjunctions to begin a sentence has been part of the English language for centuries. In general, about ten percent of sentences start that way. Never starting with a conjunction can also lead to confusing run-on sentences that may annoy or confuse readers. Sometimes it’s simply better to break a compound sentence into two separate ones, even if the second one starts with a conjunction.

So do begin sentences with conjunctions when there is a need, but not all the time.

Amazon’s Braindead Review Policy

In October of 2016, Amazon reacted to accusations of posting biased reviews by making a significant change to their review policy. The goal was to eliminate reviews that were incentivized in some manner, particularly those provided in exchange for receiving a free or discounted item. And this included book reviews. The way that Amazon implemented this change was to summarily remove any review that contained a disclaimer indicating possible bias, and then to ban the reviewer. If this approach seems reasonable to you, then think again. Allow me to illustrate that the new policy not only doesn’t work, but has actually made things worse.

Consider two buyers—Alpha and Beta. Both receive a free item (which might simply be an ebook) in exchange for agreeing to post a review. Note that they have not promised to write a favorable review. Alpha is honest, and includes a disclaimer with the posted review. Beta simply posts a review without revealing the possible bias. In the past, Amazon would have left both reviews up. Now, they key on disclaimers, so Alpha’s review would be removed, while Beta’s less honest review remains. In other words, Amazon’s reviews are now, on average, less trustworthy, because dishonesty is rewarded while honesty results in punishment. The incentivized reviews are still there, but they are now impossible to recognize.

I ended up being caught out by this. I had just self-published my first book and had asked friends and family to post reviews. Because I am an honest person, I suggested that they might include a disclaimer that they knew the author. The ones that did had their reviews summarily deleted by Amazon.

So learn from my mistake. Tell your reviewers to be dishonest, because that allows Amazon to feel better about itself. 🙂

How important is a book’s title?

The topic of this post is something that concerned me as I began to write my first novel. “Audrey of Farmerton” doesn’t exactly sound exciting, or make it clear that it’s a fantasy. (Adding a series title, “Book One of Andoran’s Realm” in this case, does help some in my opinion.) I tried to think of a better title, but failed miserably. People I asked about it kept telling me they liked the title. Eventually, I just gave up and went with it. After all, the main character is named Audrey, and she’s from a small village called Farmerton, so the title is, at least, not misleading. The second book will be called “The Witch’s City”, and that sounds more like a fantasy novel.

(“Farmerton” turned out to be fairly unique despite its obvious origin of “Farmer Town”. The only real place by that name that I could find is in Scotland. Unique is, of course, good when it comes to people searching for a book by its title.)

Some people are adamant that a book’s title be clear as to the subject matter. For example, Murder on the Orient Express makes it clear that it’s a murder mystery set on a train. But many fiction titles aren’t so clear. I doubt that when Moby Dick was published, if any of its initial readers knew what is was about. Rebecca is a classic work of literature, but the title doesn’t really tell you anything. And, despite the title, To Kill a Mockingbird is not a guide to how to hunt mockingbirds.

The point I am trying to make is that the title doesn’t always have to be transparent. On the other hand, given the shear number of books now being self-published, it can certainly be argued that the title should be informative, because prospective readers may not even take the time to do more than read the title and glance at the cover (which may only be a small thumbnail image). This is especially important for beginning authors as they struggle to get noticed and build a following.