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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Lawrence Howe <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 5 Dec 1996 11:00:53 -600
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
TEXT/PLAIN (101 lines)
        Joe Vitale.  _Cyber Writing: How to Promote Your Product or Service
        Online (Without Being Flamed)_.  New York: Amacom, 1997.    Pp. xiii
        175.  Appendices, bibliography, index.  Paper.  6" x 9". $18.95.
        ISBN 0-8144-7918-9.

        Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by :

                Lawrence Howe <[log in to unmask]>
                Roosevelt University
                Chicago, IL 60605

        Copyright (c) Mark Twain Forum, 1996.  This review may not be
        published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

            How To Appropriate Mark Twain For A Cheap Hustle

With the help of  _Cyber Writing_ , by Joe Vitale (aka Mr. Fire), I
learned how to write a snappy title for this review.  It is short, to the
point, and directly worded.  OK, maybe I didn't "Write in kindness" (6) as
Vitale suggests we should, but I'm not moved to sympathy when confronted
with his sort of marketing ploy.  To put it bluntly, this book has
nothing to do with Mark Twain.  Despite the high visibility of the name
in Chapter 4--"How Would Mark Twain Handle E-Writing?"-- the text does not
exhibit enough substance to elevate such a gesture above namedropping.

Sure, Vitale claims to have studied Mark Twain's speeches, from which he
has gleaned "six secrets" of successful online writing.  However, the
flimsiness of his Twain credentials shows up right away when he asserts
that "Twain wasn't a born speaker.  If anything, he was born to navigate
boats" (65).  Vitale should have read more than the  speeches; a cursory
reading of _Life on the Mississippi_ would have informed him that Samuel
Clemens wasn't born a riverboat pilot, he was made one--and not without
considerable vexation and humiliation--at the hands of Horace Bixby.
The true shamelessness of Vitale's strategy surfaces, though, when he
explicates the "six secrets."  Each of these begins with an account of a
particular technique by which Twain developed his talent as a platform
speaker.  But when Vitale pivots with the refrain "How do you apply this
to cyber writing?" the tendentiousness of the Twainian premise is
exposed.   Vitale's tips for "turbocharging" your cyber writing not only
have little or nothing to do with his particular observations of Twain's
technique, but also amount to no more than tried-and-true techniques of
the pre-cyberspace writing course.

For example, in "Secret One: Rehearse," Vitale takes Twain's practice of
memorizing his speeches and converts it to the tip: you should "always
rewrite and perfect your e- writing before you ever post or send any
message" (67).  Similarly, he reduces Twain's use of graphical reminders
on the podium to "Secret Two: Cheat," a suggestion about brainstorming and
outlining that have long been standard instruction in composition
classrooms and have no relation to cheating at all.  And perhaps the least
persuasive is "Secret Six: Participate," in which Vitale equates Twain's
fashioned persona to the habit of chipping in your two cents in chat rooms

I'm not saying that Vitale doesn't have anything useful to convey in this
book.  None of his suggestions are bad ones.  Most of them are simply
conventional wisdom: get to the point, write in your own voice, use
language that will engage your reader.  I also have nothing against
conventional wisdom.  But to trick that out as "secrets of cyber writing"
is, in my view, disingenuous.  Of course, Vitale is savvy enough to know
that the cyberworld is hot right now, and to couch his advice as a key to
success in this mysterious environment makes some marketing sense.  And
he certainly hits the target when he points out that the glut of online
information and the restlessness of the reader whose attention may elude
your grasp with the flinch of a forefinger make the online writers task
all the more daunting.  But his (or his publisher's) submission of the
book for review on the Mark Twain Forum contradicts one of his more sound
pieces of advice: pitch your products or services only to people who are
likely to want them.  Now there may be some subscribers to the Mark Twain
Forum who might be interested in online commerce, but I suspect that most
subscribers click on because they are interested in Mark Twain and not in
a book about how best to camouflage online salespitches to avoid being
flamed--being harangued by online users who find any attempt to exploit
the net for capital gain contemptible.

This mercantile masquerade is Vitale's real topic, as his book's subtitle
makes plain.  Ironically, had he glanced at some of Clemens's more
vituperative correspondence, he might have begun to suspect that Mark
Twain would have been inclined to flame the likes of "Mr. Fire."  Moreover,
had he acknowledged Clemens's entrepreneurial desire to control the means
of disseminating information both as the owner of a publishing firm and
as the major investor in what he perceived to be a revolutionary printing
technology, Vitale might have derived some instructive inferences about
how Mark Twain would have felt about the Internet in general.  Clemens
was interested in making money, lots of it, and he might have been lured
by the goldmine hype that has hovered around the Internet in recent
years, even though it has not yet shown itself capable of delivering on
those predictions.  But his interest in gaining centralized control over
the production of print culture runs against the grain of the Internet's
diffuse structure.  Of course, in order to entertain such
considerations, one must be genuinely interested in Mark Twain.

Still, we need not turn a torch on Vitale for having trifled with the
Mark Twain Forum.  After all, I doubt that it would do any good.  "Mr.
Fire" admits to having been flamed for earlier efforts of self-promotion,
and being scorched before didn't prevent him from submitting his book to
the Forum.  Alas,  his incendiary sobriquet should perhaps be replaced by
the more apt "Mr. Asbestos."