From the Archives: “Google misspelled itself: The weight of word choice in self-publishing a book”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: December 5th, 2010 ]

Scholars and sources claim that William Shakespeare invented as many 1700 in his published and performed writing career. Language is dynamic and words are invented all of the time. Or, in cases like “Google” reinvented through accidentally misspelling the word for the number, googol. When words, specific combinations of words, are used often they can become powerful. They can also become cliché.

An interesting definition of the word cliché from Wikipedia:

“a saying, expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect rendering it a stereotype, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. The term is frequently used in modern culture for an action or idea which is expected or predictable, based on a prior event. It is likely to be used pejoratively.”

How many of us where taught to avoid cliché in our writing at all cost? One popular creative writing professor focuses an entire week on the subject.

In print, the French derived word, cliché, came to denote a printing plate used as a cast in moveable type. Commonly used words and phrases were cast into a single mold. The idea was to take a novelty and replicate it easily and inexpensively. The overuse of such came to take on a negative connotation.

But cliché can work for the self-publishing author in marketing your book.

What do words and phrases like these bring to mind?

Change we can believe in
All for one…
Don’t leave home without it…
Google

Even if these are terms you don’t personally buy into, or even agree with, they are indelible. Think of them as the cast plate of the new digital work that come in the form of keywords, tags, Twitter handles, and the list goes on. The can become the brand for your book. And the best part is they are free.

Whether you’re published or just finishing the 1st chapter of your book, start thinking about what makes your work unique, and how cliché may become a key component in your book marketing campaign.

On Clichés

They’re not all bad, are they? After all, there’s nothing quite so appealing as the comfort of familiarity, especially in the midst of unfamiliar territory or while on the hunt for something new to stock the shelves––whether those shelves are in the pantry or the office or the library, this rule will always apply. Even people who self-confess to being “adventurous souls” very rarely try the absolute least familiar item available on the menu; humans are hard-wired to be scientists, and to hone their powers of selection by trial and error.

Try something and hate it, and anything connected to it will automatically become a less likely future choice, even subconsciously. Try something and love it, and anything remotely similar or that shares similar ingredients will strike a congenial subconscious note, making that strange seafood dish you’ve never heard of but that contains coconut and shrimp automatically appealing––or that book you’ve never read, but that uses a similar cover design to Adrian Tchaikovsky or Nnedi Okorafor deeply interesting, even though you’ve never heard of the new author.

This process of learning and developing tastes by trial and error leads to another psychological distillation which at first sounds ominous: confirmation bias. Essentially, confirmation bias comes into play when people want a certain idea to be true, and they end up coaxing themselves into believing it to be true. As Psychology Today puts it, “They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.” Confirmation bias has been blamed for a lot of negative human behavior, including the recent political conversation about “fake news” and the people who do or do not believe the news in question, but it’s not always such a bad thing. It’s the consequence of how humans learn––by trial and error, and learning from not just our personal errors but the errors of others. Oh, that kind of book cover has let me down in the past. Oh, that genre has been a safe choice before! And so on.

Confirmation bias shares the power of clichés on a grand social level––we only believe them to work because we tell ourselves that they work, collectively. But if there’s anything we can learn from human psychology, it’s that these kinds of collective decisions can have powerful, wide-ranging, far-reaching effects. We will use a cliché if we personally or collectively have tested its premise and found it lines up with the universe well. For example, if we’ve “looked a gift horse in the mouth” or known someone who did, and suffered for it, we’re far more likely to use the cliché ourselves in the future––because it lines up with experience.

So:

Experience is the test of whether you should use a certain cliché in your marketing or not. Don’t use a cliché just because it exists and falls easily off of the tongue (and onto your laptop keyboard) … use a cliché because it lines up with the evidence, personally and generally. Readers have phenomenally sensitive “B.S. detectors” (as my father put it once), and they will not forgive you for lapsing into cliché-speak just to drive sales and without verifying the legitimacy of your language usage. As in all things, you want to be true to yourself, to your voice as an author––in marketing as in everything else––and you want to be the most effective, accurate author possible.

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Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


Kelly

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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