Spelling and the fear of new technology

I read an article in The Sydney Morning Herald today that talked about a poll conducted by Galaxy. They asked 400 people in Sydney and Melbourne aged over 16 to spell eight commonly mis-spelled words. The words in question were:


According the article, people should be red faced about their inability to spell. Apparently around two thirds couldn’t spell embarrass, seventy per cent couldn’t spell accommodation and a quarter couldn’t spell February.

Galaxy found that women did better than men and only 7 per cent of respondents spelled everything right; 25-34 year olds ranked among the worst spellers.

I don’t find it all that surprising. Given the list of words, they’re commonly mis-spelled for a reason. Eighth is just a bastard of a word when you see it written down. There are examples of the double letter problem, like accommodation. It doesn’t look too bad spelled acommodation or accomodation but both are wrong. When you compare it to accommodation, however, nothing stands out as being obviously correct. Receipt is a good example of the old “i before e except after c” rule, but even that presents issues. This is partly due to only half a rule being known. Words like “sufficient” and “weird” prove that “i before e except after c” is not a true rule. It should be “i before e except after c when the sound is ee”. See this Language Log article for more. But I digress.

My point is that these are hard words to spell. The part of the article that really annoyed me though was this:

The children’s author Deborah Abela said spell check and text message abbreviations were harming people’s spelling skills.

Shouldn’t that be childrens’ author? Anyway, what she says is bollocks. I would wager that this same Galaxy poll conducted 20 years ago would have had the same results. Some people are good at spelling, some people learn to spell well and some are just atrocious at it. I don’t think that new technology is making people into worse spellers at all.

I watched an doco on SBS recently that followed a bunch of American kids that took part in national spelling bees. Those kids were crazy good at spelling, given their age, and they studied with a kind of rabid fervour. And that’s what it boils down to. Encouraging kids to learn is more important than looking for scapegoats like spellcheck and text messaging.


Editor Unleashed/Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 – I got in

First off, thanks to all of you that took the time to vote for me in the recent Editor Unleashed Flash Fiction 40 competition. I am very pleased to say that I won a place in the top 40. I didn’t win first prize, but out of 280 entries it’s incredibly satisfying to get selected into the top 40. My story, Parklife, will now be included in the winners anthology, published by Smashwords, and I’ll also get $25 prize money. Result.

The contest was open genre flash fiction up to a maximum of 1,000 words. There was a period of reader voting, followed by an editorial decision by a team of judges, taking the reader votes heavily into consideration. Under conditions like these it’s incredibly gratifying to be recognised. This particular story had been rejected by various magazines and ezines six times before I decided to enter it into this comp. It had been reworked and edited numerous times (after every rejection, in fact) and was eventually extremely heavily trimmed from a short story of around 2,200 words to a flash piece of 967 words. And then it found a home. Ain’t editing a wonderful thing? Proof positive that a piece of fiction can be considered finished many times before it really is.

So thanks again to those who voted, congratulations to Ravenne for her winning story and congratulations to the other top 39. Also congratulations to the 240 entrants that didn’t score a place this time. Having the balls to write a piece and enter it into a public contest is worthy of adulation in itself.

Here’s a full list of the winning entries. I’ll be sure to let you know when the Smashwords anthology is available.


“Crossfire” added to the Dark Shorts page

My short story “Crossfire”, which was recently published in The Oddville Press magazine, has been added to the Dark Shorts page here. Rather than reprint the story on my site like I usually do, I’ve made a direct link to the PDF file of the magazine in question. It’s a free publication and it’s full of interesting stuff, so have a look. Feel free to right click and save as if you haven’t already got a copy of this issue.

You can find previous issues via The Oddville Press website.


Last chance to vote me into an anthology

You may remember that I entered a flash fiction piece in a competition organised by Editor Unleashed and Smashwords. I asked you to go and have a read and vote for me.

Well, my story currently has 65 votes and a rating of 3.12 out of 5. That’s not a bad rating overall and puts me quite well up the running, but I don’t know if it’s good enough to make the top 40 and get included in the anthology.

If you can spare a few minutes, please go over to the Editor Unleashed forums where the comp is being held and vote for me. You’ll need to sign up to the forums, wait for a confirmation email and then click back through. Once you’ve done that you’ll see a star rating at the top right hand side of my story where you can add your vote. If you like the yarn and you think it’s worth 4 or 5 stars to help bring my average up, I’d greatly appreciate it. I know it’s a complicated process and a bit of a hassle, so thanks in advance to anyone that bothers to help me out. And thanks to those of you that have already voted. Once you’ve signed up to the forums you’ll never hear from them again if you don’t want to – there’s no spam or newsletters or anything like that.

This is the direct link to my story, Parklife: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/2009/06/15/editor-unleashed-flash-fiction-40.html


The power of blogging and social media

I often wonder just how much all my online effort pays off. On the one hand, I see the hits this site gets (over 5,000 a month) and, even though people seem reluctant to comment much, it’s a very well-traversed corner of the interwebz. And I like it here, so I plan to stick around. I’m also very well aware of the need to build a profile online, a platform to make people aware of the fact that I’m a writer and that I have great books that are worth their time and money. I also have other fiction here on the site that is available to anyone for free and I like sharing that. I enjoy sharing news of other places that I get published, like the Oddville Press story recently, and I like sharing news about other writers.

So it’s all good, but does it really work on anything more than my ego?

Well, my books are selling well enough. Slow and steady. I’d certainly like to sell more, become a global phenomenon with hordes of rabid fans that dress up as the characters in my stories, but who doesn’t want that? It may happen to some degree, it may not – I’ll be writing anyway, so I might as well keep up the author platform and keep myself out there.

But every once in a while you come across something that reignites your faith in the power of blogging and social media. I often read Nathan Bransford’s blog. Nathan is a literary agent for Curtis Brown and blogs about all things related to his job, from writing good query letters to what’s hot at the moment and everything in between. Of course, given that his blog is so massively popular, he also gets back a good view of the zeitgeist from all the comments on anything he writes.

Yesterday he put up a very simple post:

You Tell Me: Where Did You Hear About the Book You’re Reading?

Last week we all shared what we’re reading at the moment.

Marketers and publicists and literary agents and everyone else interested in sales wants to know: how did you hear about it?

Also: where did you buy/borrow/acquire/steal it from?

At last look there are 194 comments on that post, with all kinds of books listed. Here are just the first three of those nearly two hundred comments:

Anonymous said…

Reading The Strain. Heard about it from Colleen Lindsay on Twitter.

Liana Brooks said…

Just finished Trouble with Demons. Won it from a blog promoting the release.

joelle said…

I used to do a lot of library browsing, but now I have a friend who is a MG/YA sales rep for Penguin Canada and she gives me about 35-40 ARCs every few months. My library use now is pretty much requests based on what I read about on blogs or personal recommendations from friends.

The bolding is mine, obviously. The number of times words like Twitter, blog, Amazon, Goodreads and so on crop up among those comments proves that online activity and social media is by far the strongest influence in readers these days. I was also pleased to see that good old fashioned libraries still get a look in. Old and new, co-existing. With books. Bliss.

So yes, social media and online activity is certainly worth the time and effort that it takes. Moreso, it’s absolutely essential if you want to be noticed out there, particularly if you don’t have the marketing behemoth of a big publisher backing you.

So what about you? Is social media working for you? Do you use online recommendations like those mentioned above to select your reading material? Leave a comment.