On Capitalizing Articles, The Beatles, and Why Authors Might Want to Avoid Wikipedia

I feel compelled to share with you (again) my feelings about Wikipedia. This time my take on the big Wiki is a little more wideranging. Now it's about Wikipedia, the Beatles, editing, and your book. My inspiration is an article The Wall Street Journal. Not too long ago, it ran a full-page feature story on the—in my opinion—idiocy-factor of Wikipedia.

But let me back up. In the first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter I suggested that authors might install themselves on Wikipedia. Sometimes we need a dose of good marketing fun. Imagine feeling as if our author selves had made it sufficiently to be listed in an encyclopedia! I also thought it might give our self images a boost. And, of course, our credibility. I listed myself right after my first novel was published and it was a ball. I have a journalism background, so I was very careful to use strict journalistic ethical standards, avoid adjectives and adverbs, etc. To make a long story short, it didn't work out so well. You can read the sordid details in the second edition of The Frugal Book Promoter (http://budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo) where I revised my recommendation.

These days I suggest that writers only attempt using Wikipedia as part of their branding campaign if they have a bona fide publisher (by Wikipedia standards and it's anyone's guess what those standards might be!)who will do it for them and if they are not sensitive writerly types. In other words, you might enjoy it more if you have a really thick skin.

Then along comes The Journal article that tells about the very long running disagreement between Wikipedia "editors" on whether or not The Beatles should be "the Beatles" or "The Beatles." They have apparently been disputing this monumental punctuation and marketing choice issue, a debate "playing out behind the scenes" where apparently most of their debates are carried out which says something about their editorial transparency.

The Journal notes that Wikipedia has some 85,000 active editors "defined as those who record at least five edits per month." And they talk (and argue!) using a little edit link at the top of each page. According to The Journal, one editor claims it is getting worse because of "an overabundance of testosterone running around the pages." (About 90% of Wikipedia's editors are male and a huge percentage—more than half—of those editors say they've been in an argument with other editors in the last few months. And the arguments were on monumental issues like whether or not an image of cow tipping portrays this activity of rural youth appropriately. And, of course, on the Beatles issue.

I'm open to the idea that disagreement may in the long run lead to the accuracy of entries. In fact, that's the whole idea behind Wikipedia—that the truth (and full story) of any issue will eventually filter to the top and the dregs will filter away.

But that testosterone thing? Let's—to avoid argument over terms—call it authoritarianism or cases of terminal self-righteousness. It keeps those very things from happening, to say nothing of wasting time that would be unacceptable if the market place if those "editors" were being paid a salary or by the hour. Of if they had been selected on the basis of expertise rather than frequency.

What the Beatles issue boils down to is a style choice. (To learn more about style choices you may want to refer to my blog on editing at http://thefrugaleditor.blogspot.comor to The Frugal Editor at http://budurl.com/thefrugaleditor or Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande at http://budurl/grammarsnobs). And to branding.

If The Beatles wanted to use a capital "T" as they did on Ringo's drum and other advertising, then that branding should be honored when their name is used. That is their name. We all get to choose the names of our businesses, books, or bands and we get to choose how to capitalize them. The New York Times uses the "The" as part of their name and it's capped to indicate that. So does The Wall Street Journal. But that's rare. Most newspapers don't.

Perhaps Wikipedia needs firmer guidelines for their "editors." Perhaps those guidelines should include choosing a reliable style choice manual like Chicago Manual of Style (http://budurl.com/ChicMan) for their editors to follow.

Perhaps Wikipedia should have some guidelines for who they accept as editors apart from how often they contribute. Or separate out those who line edit from those who contribute content. And maybe requiring some editing experience would be a good idea. I mean, it wouldn't hurt this site to pay some writers or editors for their expertise.

These guys, maybe including the 10% of them who are women, need some reigning in when they hold power over which authors are acceptable to be included in their online encyclopedia—or which editors get to hold sway over the Beatles' brand. Of course, because of the disagreement, Wikipedia could just ban The Beatles from their book! They've been known to do that to authors.

Note: Sometimes you see "The Beatles" in this little rant. Sometimes you don't. That's because in my personal style book, I cap the "The" when I'm referring to the actual titles of the band and don't when I'm referring to something that belongs to The Beatles like their brand. Sometimes the choice is hard to make. I don't think it's worth getting into a frenzy over.

So now you know all about the relationship between Wikipedia, The Beatles, Marketing, Branding, and Punctuation. You know why authors might want to avoid such dilemmas altogether.

~Submitted my multi award-winning poet, author and book marketer Carolyn Howard-Johnson. Learn more about her at http://howtodoitfrugally.com.


Magdalena Ball said...

What a fun post, Carolyn. Thank goodness we don't have "the" (or is that "The" - I'd capitalise it if it were up to me, but I wouldn't argue for long) in front of our names. Not too much controversary with mine, other than the nickname vs full name issue but I suppose your hyphen might cause a few headaches.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Magdalena, yes. You never argue for long. That's why we make such good poetry partners. If anyone is curious about that, here is info on our newest cooperative effort:

Excited about Magdalena Ball’s and my new Sublime Planet poetry book released to celebrate Earth Day coming in April. The e-book is on Amazon in the US (http://bitly.com/EarthDayKind) in Europe and Japan, too. It's also available in paperback to be used as a gift for the tree huggers you know. All proceeds for that benefit the World Wild Life Fund.

Karen Cioffi said...

Interesting post, Carolyn. A while ago I thought of adding myself to Wiki, but then didn't. Now, I'm glad I didn't. There's enough more than enough other marketing strategies and tools to use. Thanks for the useful information!

T. Forehand said...

Interesting and more then enough to think about. Thanks for sharing.

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