Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flaming and justifying and flaming about justifying

Online newbies (and there may be a few here) may be unaware of "flaming" and "flame wars." I first observed them on Compuserve forums in the 1980s -- before the Internet became popular.

Here's a good explanation from Wikipedia: "Flaming, also known as bashing, is hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users. Flaming usually occurs in the social context of an Internet forum, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Usenet, by e-mail, game servers such as Xbox Live or Playstation Network, and on video-sharing websites. It is frequently the result of the discussion of heated real-world issues such as politics, sports, religion, and philosophy, or of issues that polarise subpopulations, but can also be provoked by seemingly trivial differences. Deliberate flaming, as opposed to flaming as a result of emotional discussions, is carried out by individuals known as flamers, who are specifically motivated to incite flaming. These users specialize in flaming and target specific aspects of a controversial conversation, and are usually more subtle than their counterparts. Their counterparts are known as trolls who are less "professional" and write obvious and blunt remarks to incite a flame war, as opposed to the more subtle, yet precise flamers."

Flaming seems to have decreased, but it still exists on some online venues, including Yahoo's self-publishing group. A couple of anonymous flamers show up here, too.

I try to avoid flame wars, but it's not always possible to tell that a discussion will degenerate into childlike insults, often propelled by ignorance and egomania.

Once flamed, it's natural to want to get in the last word, and it's often impossible to get in the last word. After a few interactions, sometimes I feel like saying, "you don't know what you're talking about," "stop wasting electrons," "does your mommy know you're using her computer?" or "go fuck yourself."

I recently got flamed in a discussion about book design, by someone I'll label an ignorant and egomaniacal belligerent asshole, who insisted that pages of text that are "full-justified" are harder to read than text that is flush-left/ragged-right. He also insisted that it's proper to have two spaces-- not one space -- between sentences (an obsolete artifact of ancient typewriters).

At one point he tried to bolster his argument for the extra space between sentences by pointing out that he had typed his flames with the extra space, which made them easier to read. Despite his vast (half-vast?) experience, he did not know that web browsers ignore the extra spaces which he deliberately inserts.

He backed up his minority position by citing his alleged 30 years experience writing and editing, and spewed the customary ad-hominem attacks at those (mostly me) who tried to explain how books are normally designed in the United States.

I saw no point in continuing to argue with the flaming asshole and bailed out. With great restraint, I resisted the urge to encourage him to perform an act of self-copulation.

Yesterday I found a good comment about justification by Shannon Yarbrough in “10 Things You Should Know About Self-Publishing” published on The LL Book Review.

"I have never, never, NEVER seen a traditionally published book that lacked right margin justification and I’m tired of self-published authors telling me that they did it that way because it’s easier to read.  No, you didn’t follow the rules because you didn’t do your homework, or you don’t know how. I know that’s harsh, but it’s the truth and it’s one reason I will turn down a book for review right away."
I could not have said it better. Thanks, Shannon.


  1. Thanks for the mention! Great site by the way. I've added you to our blogroll.

    The LL Book Review

  2. In today's world, testing for ease of reading (in meaningful terms, perhaps speed, eye movement, comprehension, and retention) would be a fairly trivial task. Surely if one justification system or another were significantly easier to read, there would be a body of actual evidence that could be pointed to, rather than bald statements such as "It just is!"

    I must say that I feel most of the arguments made either for or against ragged-right justification simply do not leave the realm of "I like it" and "I don't like it."

    In the end it comes down to a simple point. It doesn't matter which one is "better." If a filmmaker released his masterpiece on Beta and said it was better, he'd have a tough time getting his costs back. What matters in book design comes down to what's expected at least as often as it comes down to what's "better."

  3. hats off to you. I read onteh createspace website and on Lighting Source that they want you to justify your work-- in fact I read teh fine print on Lighting Source, and it does say that "justification" is a requirement for them accepting your book to print.

    So... if CreateSpace suggests it, and Lighting Source reuqires it and you say it's good, who am I to argue?