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September 6, 2011

What Can Writers Learn from Spam?

Collage of @ symbols and envelopes

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen me tweet quotes from spam comments posted to my blog.  If so, you might have noticed I get some very “interesting” comments.

It’s gotten to the point that I look forward to reading spam comments.  Even more pathetically, I’m disappointed when they’re the usual lame collection of links.

Most of the spam comments to my blog are worthless.  But the remaining percentage is highly entertaining.  (Note: All comments quoted here are 100% genuine.  Yes, really.)

Some of them are produced by a random word generator, which creates poetic-sounding nonsense:

“So if you make a anguish are not listed, we be aware, you baptize us.”

Others are written by someone in a non-English-speaking country and go through a translator program—for hilarious results:

“soviet with a room to a vladimir – knocked up from the bicuspids”

(I’m not sure what that one was trying to say, but I think it means a vampire made a soviet pregnant by biting them.  I could be wrong though.  *shrug*)

My point is that even though these are spam comments, I still read them.  Why?  Partly to make sure that no “real” comments get caught in the spam folder (which has happened), and partly because no matter the source, reading others’ writing can teach us something.

What Writers Can Learn from Spam

  • Be Truthful—to a Point:

“Hi, it’s spam bot, please, delete this message”

While we want to be truthful in our writing (letting readers know the genre, story premise, etc., or being vulnerable on our blogs), there is such a thing as being too honest.  Story pitches, whether for query letters or back-of-the-book descriptions, are marketing, so pick the biggest drama and stakes and forget all the little details.  The acronym TMI for “too much information” is well known for a reason.

  • Grammar Matters:

“Most helpful Web site Content I had Ever before Spotted.!.!”

We may have the best story in the world, but that won’t matter if poor sentence construction, misused commas, or an abundance of sentence fragments makes it unreadable.  Grammar rules exist to make communication easier, not just to make our jobs HaRdEr.

  • Word Choice Is Important:

“Live Copulation Cams”

Yes, “copulation” might show up in the thesaurus next to “sex,” but the subtext behind the words is different.  When agents or editors say to beware the thesaurus, they’re pointing out this danger of picking the not-quite-right word.  We edit and use beta readers to make sure the reader experiences the story we mean to tell.

  • Controversy Gets Attention:

“I will prove that this website has more to offer than merely sex.”

Artists of all types tend to push the envelope.  We often want to make people think or see the world from a different perspective.  Sometimes, that creates controversy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  We shouldn’t be afraid to push ourselves or our characters into difficult situations.

  • Play Nice:

“An injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult.”

However, trying to get attention by slamming other writers or our readers isn’t the right way to create controversy.  Let our work speak for itself.  If our behavior is stealing the focus from our writing, we’re only hurting ourselves.

  • Beware False Flattery:

“I am indeed in love with this page”

I’ll admit that comment made me smile.  But then I deleted it like all the others.  We all start off as nobody wanna-be authors.  Somewhere down the line, we start making a name for ourselves.  New “friends” will emerge from the woodwork—and want something from us.  Real networking isn’t about flattery and favors.

  • Keep Secrets and Say “No”:

“how do you have the capacity to ward off all the spammers?”

We don’t want to give away plot secrets, and we don’t have to oblige everyone who asks for a favor.  It’s okay to play coy with our writing.  And it’s okay to guard our writing time ferociously.  (*psst*  It’s the Akismet plugin.  *smile*)

  • We Are People, Not Brands:

“I wish you the best of success being a professional topic”

I’ve frequently talked about branding on this blog, but I’ve always had the attitude that our brand is simply the impression others have of us.  Our brand is not something separate from us that we’re building over in that far corner.  Our brand is the culmination of everything people see us say and do.  If we want others to see us in a certain light, then we have to be that person.  Branding isn’t a magic potion to erase our weaknesses and reveal only our strengths.

And finally…

  • Content Is King:

“While this is a low-class hornet’s snuggery”

I have no idea what this means, but someday I want to include the phrase “a low-class hornet’s snuggery” in a story—just because it sounds cool.

Do you get interesting spam?  Do you ever read it for the entertainment value?  Which of these spam quotes is your favorite?  Are there any lessons here you struggle with?  Do you have suggestions for how to use “a low-class hornet’s snuggery” in a story?

What do you think?

44 Comments on "What Can Writers Learn from Spam?"

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Gia Murphy
Gia Murphy

I’m always impressed with the names.

The best spam email was from the widow of a High placed politician who also was suffering from Testicular Cancer.

Ava Jae

I got my first spam blog comment a few days ago, but sadly it wasn’t nearly as interesting (it was a link to some bank thing). I have to say, your spam comments are quite amusing. Especially that soviet vampire one. And “low-class hornet’s snuggery.” You should definitely keep a running list for fun. 😀

Sarah Pearson

I’m honoured to be visiting a hornet’s snuggery, but it’s definitely not low class 🙂

Jami's Tech Guy

This post makes me more happy than the cheapest pharmaceuticals while vacationing in Bali.

You are more brillaint than 6 gold rolexes!

-TG
@jaytechdad

Typos and links intentional (and the link is silly).

Lisa Gail Green

Wow. Those are some entertaining comments. I have to admit I don’t really check those. I should! I might be missing something, and I’d hate that! I like your lessons learned too. Wish the spammers would learn some lessons though…

Michele Shaw

I’ve never had a spam blog comment, darn it! I keep checking, but I guess I’m too boring:) Here’s to hoping…some day.

Jessica Anne

I’m so glad I’m not the only one who enjoys their spam comments. I’m sometimes tempted to approve the flattering ones. There are days they make me happy, misspellings and poor grammar and all. Search terms are also great fun.

Elena

Such a great post! I wish my SPAM were that interesting. Any Spam that uses the word Bicuspids is all right with me!

Irene Vernardis
Irene Vernardis

Hi Jami.

Very enjoyable post. You know that I’m jealous of your spam :P.

Well, I don’t read spam. I delete the ones managing to get through the protection (wait, that didn’t actually sound right…)

As for the blog, I haven’t received any spam messages yet. So yeah, I’m jealous.

Gene Lempp

Since you asked, for some reason I get a ton of male enhancement drug adds captured in my Akismet (which is a feature I love to death for the amount of time it save me). It was odd that when I posted on Otzi, I had 23 males enhancement comments. Hey, the guy has been dead for thousands of years, the product is not going to work. But I digress 🙂
I read through the Akismet once a month, just for fun; I’ve never had a comment in there that didn’t deserve the location. This includes a few “flamers”, which was entertaining to read but not to share.
As for “low-class hornet’s snuggery”, it makes me think of a bar, seedy, off-the-path, where even respectable criminals dare not trod.
Oh, Jami, “I love this page”. LOL! Couldn’t resist 😀

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

I challenge you to insert one sentence from your spam into each work you write. Oh, and with attribution. You don’t want to plagiarize.

Kerry Meacham

So the last quote begs the question, “What exactly constitutes a HIGH-class hornet’s snuggery?” I’m just saying.

Kiersten

Nothing but high-class hornet’s snuggeries ’round here.

Oddly, I never get spam comments. Watch, now that I’ve said that, I’ll get an onslaught. Today, I got my first foreign language comment, which I duly ran through the translator tho I still didn’t post it. I did post another from the same commenter that simply said “GOOD. GOOD.” That translated pretty well, I thought. 😉

Fodder for the Muse, babe. Fodder for the Muse.

Kyla

Useful spam? Who could have imagined such a thing?

Thanks for sharing your hilarious spam. I’ve never had any spam on my blog (and after reading this, I’m deeply saddened by that fact), but my twitter account seems to be a major target.

The thing about spam that has me bumfazzled: who are those people who click on the dang things and make it worthwhile for spammers to send them out into to the world, anyway? I know it costs practically nothing to do, in the terms of money, and even having one in a million people clicking on the links makes it worthwhile. But I’d really like to know: who’s the dumb one?

I’m so surprised I actually learned some things from spam…that’s such a scary thought. What’s the world coming to, when spam can teach you lessons?

Thanks for sharing and have a great day! Happy writing!

Deri Ross
Deri Ross

Ah, man, you stole my idea. I was totally thinking of doing a blog about my spam! But I hadn’t thought about making it educational for writing purposes, so I bow to your wisdom, lol. My blog is fairly new, so I get more span than “real” comments, so I confess I scour them carefully to make sure they are really spam…and if they are unspammy enough to pass for a real comment…haaaa! I love the nonsense. They are good for a chuckle.

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[…] What Can Writers Learn from Spam? by Jami Gold […]

Anne R. Allen

Awesome post. Love it.

I get lots of good stuff from spam too. For a while I was getting amazing email spam that pretended to be from actual people. The names were so amazing, I saved a folder full of them. My favorite is one I used in a short story: Zoticus Weatherwax. I think he sounds like the sort of person who would talk about “low-class hornet’s snuggery,” don’t you?

Darcy Peal
Darcy Peal

I’m not sure if this counts as spam or just a confused person, but:
This was on my Joomla website.

“You F*#@(*% Ass%#@! you F*#@(*% you think you know everything! I’m tired of reading all your Co^&($# answers. You stupid CO*^%$#@* ASS&$%#.

BTW Thank you, your answer solved my problem.”

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[…] know, I know.  It’s my own fault my muse was distracted, because in my last post I wondered how to include the phrase “a low-class hornet’s snuggery” in a story.  And yes, if I ever have time, I now have a short story in mind for that phrase.  So once again, […]

Beth Hull

I love spam comments, too, for all the reasons you listed. I highlighted my favorites in a blog post (“Have a monster in your pants,” if you’re interested – I won’t spam you with a link here). This is great, what you’ve done with making connections and lessons for writing. Thanks!

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[…] stuff that collects in every bloggers grease trap. Is it useful? Jami Gold explores this topic in What Can Writers Learn From Spam? Clay Morgan brings us a somewhat different and humorous look at this subject in Attack of […]

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[…] above is exactly what I’ve been facing over the past week.  In last Tuesday’s post, I shared a line—“While this is a low-class hornet’s snuggery”—from a spam comm… that I wanted to include in a story someday.  Then in last Thursday’s post, I mentioned that […]

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[…] of my spam comments are…er, entertaining and educational.  *smile*  I blogged before about what we can learn from spam (one spam comment inspired the story I’m pitching!), and I translated another spam comment […]

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[…] But maybe we’re not giving spam its due. Sure, most of the time, the “comments” are only fit for the compost bin. But, sometimes, you harvest a few gems, stuff that makes you laugh and/or makes good fodder for a blog post when you’re running a little low on ideas. Maybe it even has something to teach us, as author Jami Gold points out. […]

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[…] Gold entertained us a few months back with a fabulous post on what we could learn from spam, and I just wanted to say thanks. Whereas before I’d just browse my spam folder, […]

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[…] But maybe we’re not giving spam its due. Sure, most of the time, the “comments” are only fit for the compost bin. But, sometimes, you harvest a few gems, stuff that makes you laugh and/or makes good fodder for a blog post when you’re running a little low on ideas. Maybe it even has something to teach us, as author Jami Gold points out. […]

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