What Can Writers Learn from Spam?

by Jami Gold on September 6, 2011

in Writing Stuff

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?

44 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Gia Murphy September 6, 2011 at 6:04 am

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.

Reply

Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 8:02 am

Hi Gia,

Oh yes! Thanks for reminding me. I meant to mention that spam can be a great source of names for our stories. One of my followers on G+ shared that tip a few weeks ago.

A widow suffering from Testicular Cancer? LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Ava Jae September 6, 2011 at 7:02 am

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. 😀

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 8:03 am

Hi Ava,

Seriously, they’re all real. I couldn’t make some of those up. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Sarah Pearson September 6, 2011 at 7:03 am

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

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 8:04 am

Hi Sarah,

LOL! Well, thank you kindly. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Jami's Tech Guy September 6, 2011 at 8:51 am

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).

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 8:55 am

Hey Tech Guy,

ROTFLOL! Too funny. Thanks for the laugh and the comment (and the link)!

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Lisa Gail Green September 6, 2011 at 9:05 am

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…

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 9:10 am

Hi Lisa,

I don’t know. Do we really want smarter spam? Do we want them evolving? 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Michele Shaw September 6, 2011 at 9:13 am

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.

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 9:38 am

Hi Michele,

LOL! Never thought you’d be wishing for spam, huh? 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Jessica Anne September 6, 2011 at 9:18 am

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.

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 9:40 am

Hi Jessica,

Yay! Another spam reader. 🙂 I understand about the flattering ones. I don’t “approve” them, but I also sometimes don’t delete them right away. Ooops. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Elena September 6, 2011 at 9:25 am

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

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 9:41 am

Hi Elena,

LOL! Yes, bicuspids is a rather unusual word choice, isn’t it? 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Irene Vernardis September 6, 2011 at 10:53 am

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.

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 10:54 am

Hi Irene,

*sigh* I know. I have the best spammers. *clutches them to chest* But at least I share my amusement. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Gene Lempp September 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm

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 😀

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Hi Gene,

LOL! Most of my spam comments are linked to older posts, which have been around long enough to be added to the “spam target database” I’m sure must exist out there. 🙂 I’ve never noticed a connection between the post topic and the spam topics before, so I might have to start checking that out. Thanks for the “snuggery” suggestion and the comment!

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Roxanne Skelly September 6, 2011 at 12:11 pm

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.

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Hi Roxanne,

LOL! *sigh* You’re right. I didn’t attribute any of those spam comments I quoted in my post, did I? I am so ashamed. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Kerry Meacham September 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

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

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Hi Kerry,

LOL! Oh yes, inquiring minds want to know. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Kiersten September 6, 2011 at 6:56 pm

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.

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Hi Kiersten,

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

Exactly. 🙂 I could see a whole story growing out of my hornet’s snuggery spam comment. Thanks for the comment!

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Kyla September 6, 2011 at 7:58 pm

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!

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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Hi Kyla,

Wow, all these people who don’t get my kind of spam. In that case, I’m so glad I decided to share them. 🙂 And yes, who are these people who click on spam links? And do I know any of them? LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Deri Ross September 6, 2011 at 9:18 pm

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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Jami Gold September 6, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Hi Deri,

Sorry. 🙂 Yes, I don’t know what it is that makes some people get no spam while others do. Every month or so, I get attacked by about 200-300 over the course of a day or two. Otherwise, I usually get about 5-10 a day. Thanks for the comment!

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Anne R. Allen September 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm

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?

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Jami Gold September 7, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Hi Anne,

Oh, that’s an awesome name! It sounds like something out of Hitchhiker’s Guide. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and for the comment!

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Darcy Peal September 7, 2011 at 10:20 pm

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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Jami Gold September 7, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Hi Darcy,

LOL! Er, that’s a new one. 🙂 Thanks for the laugh and thanks for the comment!

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Beth Hull September 9, 2011 at 2:09 pm

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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Jami Gold September 9, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Hi Beth,

Have a monster in your pants

LOL! Go on, there has to be a story in there for you. I’m writing one for my favorite – join me in the insanity. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

Reply

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