It’s May 25 – Geek Out!

Happy Geek Pride Day, everyone!

It’s a great time in history to be a geek, apparently. According to a recent survey, the majority of respondents consider geeks to be “extremely intelligent,” good with technology and “professionally successful.”

Plus, there’s a whole day dedicated to geekitude. Geek Pride Day has been around for a half-dozen years. May 25 was selected as the official recognition day because it is the anniversary of the date the first “Star Wars” film (Chapter 4: “A New Hope”) premiered in 1977. According to Wikipedia, May 25 also serves as Towel Day for those who love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (possibly a default, since no month contains 42 days) and Glorious 25 Day for acolytes of Discworld.

So, grab your lightsaber, hang on tight to your towel, and revel in geekiness today. And, remember, Don’t Panic because The Force is With You.

Pay to Work and Other Offers Too Good to Refuse

Pay to workRecently, I was approached by an agency promising several months of work in exchange for an up-front sum they were calling a “referral fee.”

Whether you’re a communications professional, journalist, screenwriter, or novelist, you may have come across similar hard-to-refuse offers. Authors frequently are pitched opportunities to publish their novels…for an advance payment of $5,000. In Hollywood, you find scammers pretending to be agents, charging “reading fees” before they’ll agree to “represent” you and your screenplay.

No matter the name, these are plain and simple pay-to-work schemes, and while they may be legal, they’re not considered ethical in the communications, book-publishing and screenwriting worlds.

I raise this subject because it’s been a mighty tough half-decade for the self-employed, independent, freelance community, and the prospect of longer-term work may be impossible to turn away. Plenty of us would jump at any possibility, no matter the terms. But, as with any offer that seems too good to be true, I encourage you to examine the contract for loopholes. Because what frequently happens is that the dangling carrot is an illusion, and, these days, who can afford to pay out and not receive the promised reward?

If you’re an independent communications contractor/freelance writer – there’s no question that since the Microsoft lawsuit, it’s been increasingly difficult to stay independent and work for large companies, which typically want contractors to be W-2 employees of another firm and carry at least $1 million in insurance coverage. Plenty of legitimate agencies have sprung up in response to the lawsuit, covering the cost of insurance and paycheck processing (many don’t offer other benefits, such as health insurance, 401Ks or paid vacations) by charging the corporation a hefty fee on top of your rate. Like it or not, until the courts and the IRS acknowledge that these arrangements offer no more special protection than directly hiring freelancers, companies will use them to avoid legal confusion between employees and full-time, on-site contractors.

But note the difference between the contractor agency charging a fee to the company for services rendered and asking you to pay in exchange for work. In my case, the terms were clearly laid out in the agency’s contract: 50 percent of the referral fee from the first paycheck, 50 percent out of my second check. Here’s the hitch – and it’s a big one – the referral fee must be paid up front whereas the work, for which I would have been paid on a weekly basis, stretched out over three months. If I’d accepted, I would have paid the full referral out of my first two checks with no guarantee that the remaining work (and the rest of my pay) would be forthcoming. In fact, in this case, I was dependent not just on doing a good job myself, but on the strength of other contractors from the agency. What if one of them wasn’t delivering or, worse, did something unethical? I’d lose my contract gig right alongside them – and my referral fee to boot. The reality of it, though, was that it didn’t matter what happened. If I’d signed up, I would have been contractually obligated to pay the referral fee, no matter what happened with the assignment from the corporate client – whether it played out or disappeared into thin air.

If you’re a novelist – you’ve probably seen plenty of ads for “publishing houses” that offer to publish your book and promote it for a fee. No legitimate publishing company charges an author for these services (though, unless you’ve just penned the next Hunger Games trilogy, most authors find themselves supplementing the publishing industry’s limited promotion efforts by hiring their own PR folks). If you pay to publish your work, the greatest percentage of your fee will be pocketed by the “publishing house;” the small amount left over will cover photocopying and binding. Placing your book for sale on a website doesn’t cost them anything, and it’s not “promotion.”

Stick with the legitimate publishers, small or large, and focus on the panoply of excellent literary magazines out there (Glimmer Train, Zoetrope All-Story, Tin House, Ploughshares, Poetry, and ZYZZYVA are among the well-known ones, and you may want to leaf through Writer’s Market at your local library to find others that are relevant to your style of writing). You can submit stories and poetry to all of these free of charge; many offer writing contests (for which you’ll be charged an entry fee). The exposure from having a story published and/or winning will give your creative work a far stronger boost than handing over thousands of dollars to pay someone to publish your novel, short stories or poetry collection.

If you’re a screenwriter – agents and managers do take a percentage, but it’s strictly based on what you’ve earned (and you will have in your possession a legal contract with the production company paying you). Agents and managers don’t get paid until you get paid. No ethical agent or manager will demand a “reading fee” to take you on; they either like your work and are willing to represent you or they’ll pass.

In Hollywood, you’ll find plenty of writers, agents, producers, and other insiders who offer “script-reading services” for a fee. These are, by and large, legitimate, but they’re not about finding representation, they’re strictly notes on your script designed to help you produce a more polished rewrite. If you decide to pay for notes, ask for references and compare fees with the length and type of notes you’ll receive. The Aspiring TV Writer and Screenwriter Blog offers such a service, as well as links to other reputable readers. (This is not a recommendation, but I do think it’s a good example of a clear description of services offered, plus additional links for comparison.)

When I turned down the offer, I didn’t go into specifics with the agency about their “referral fee” because, frankly, the devil wasn’t in the details. It was the whole arrangement. Industry standards rely on your good name, creative ability and diligent work ethic. Shelling out money to earn money has never been a prerequisite. And it’s not something I imagine anyone working in communications or the creative fields wants to instigate.

What do you think about “pay to work”? Have you ever tried this type of arrangement? What happened?

Let the Sun Shine In

Sunshine Week logo

National Sunshine Week, March 11 - 17, 2012.

This is Sunshine Week, March 11 – 17, celebrating the public’s right to know, a concept which these days goes by the less clarifying expression “transparency.” The culminating event of the week is Freedom of Information Day on March 16, the birthday of James Madison, the fourth U.S. president, who is considered the “Father of the Constitution” and champion of the Bill of Rights.

Sunshine Week is a nonpartisan event supported by politicians and public officials, journalists, libraries, schools, historians, museums, archives, and anyone who values open government.

You can find out more about activities in your community on the Sunshine Week website, which notes that events have been organized across the country to “enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.”

If you can’t get to one of the celebrations in your community, celebrate by viewing and re-reading the U.S. Constitution and learn more about Madison’s long road to ensuring its ratification on the National Archives website.

Cartoon contributed by Steve Greenberg, Los Angeles.

Writing that inspired me this week:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
~ First Amendment, U.S. Constitution

Hooray! It’s National Grammar Day!

March 4 is National Grammar Day. “It’s not only a date, it’s an imperative,” notes Grammar Girl. “March forth on March 4 to speak well, write well, and help others do the same!”

Celebrate your grammar geekitude with a host of games, contests, e-cards, tips, T-shirts, and even a theme song on the Grammar Girl website.

The List Post: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Dear Bloggers & Content Writers:

List PostsSo, you’ve heard you can generate lots of traffic with a list article. You’ve been advised that readers love concise chunks of information arranged for the eye under bold headlines or set off with numbers.

Plus, list posts with their shiny numeric headlines are highly promotable, tweetable and ultimately “can be successful at getting links from other bloggers,” note Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett in Problogger.

It’s all true, my good writer, but there are effective and not-so-effective ways to write a list article. A few tips – five, to be exact – to write the good list post, avoid the bad, and banish the ugly.

THE GOOD: Offer real help
You’re drawn in immediately by the headline on Jenny Frank and Frannie Marmorstein’s article “8 Ways Pitching a Reporter is Like Dating.” Even better, you’re rewarded when you click the link. They offer eight bonafide pieces of information with details and examples to back it up. Sure, this piece is for the younger PR practitioner, and all the better for matching tone to the right audience. (Besides, articles in industry publications/blogs can be helpful reminders for pros, too.)

THE GOOD: Be consistent
Another point about the style in “8 Ways Pitching a Reporter is Like Dating”: the writers chose a theme (dating) and style (dating example followed by specific advice to PR practitioners) and stuck to it for each of the eight tips. They use light humor that doesn’t get in the way of the information you want to know and the dating examples aren’t random, they perfectly illustrate each tip. (When you read this list article, “4 Grammar Rules You Can Break in Blogging,” you’ll see that only one item on the list is really about grammar; the rest is style and formatting.)

THE BAD: Humor has its place
And that place is generally a comedy club. Humor in professional writing is tricky, and it greatly depends on knowing the audience and understanding what they want to learn (not what the writer thinks he or she needs to tell them). Humor that insists on being the center of attention, takes up too much space before actual information is delivered, or is off-putting or, worse, offensive, just doesn’t work.

THE BAD: Don’t over-rely on list posts
There comes a time when readers tire of the same old format. Your Twitter followers and Facebook fans will feel the same exhaustion, seeing promos for “3 Ways to This” and “Top 10 That.” More important, some types of information are better imparted through narrative or editorials or interviews and profiles. The data, details or research you’ve spent so much time gathering for your article is also better served with a longer, more thoughtful piece, where you can carefully present the information the audience wants to know and understand. (If you’ve got yourself a list-habit, check out the chapter “Blog Writing” in the Problogger book. You’ll find a wealth of inspiration, plus a section suggesting 20 different types of blog posts and the specific details they contain. It’s useful for the blog writer, corporate communicator, PR person, or community manager.)

THE UGLY: Have something to say
A rehashed list post, “Women: 5 Ways to Present Yourself Professionally,” went up on the Ragan website today, generating quite a bit of negative feedback. And while some pundits believe inciting the ire of readers creates buzz for your brand or blog, the bigger question is whether all those people griping about you today will come back to visit you tomorrow. The smart guess is “No, they won’t;” you’ve lost credibility and many readers won’t give you a second chance to re-establish it. Whether or not this post was designed to create controversy, it stumbles for most of the reasons discussed above:

  1. it doesn’t offer help, it lectures;
  2. it’s not consistent in style or content; as many readers noted in the comments, most of the items spoke to things men do as well as women, so why were women called out for correctives?;
  3. its attempts at humor fell flat for the audience (presumably women, since the headline insisted this was meant to appeal to women);
  4. it doesn’t have enough to say about its purported subject nor does it offer concrete details about whether these are real problems or mere observations – and what really can be done about them besides wagging one’s finger at women; and
  5. it insults the audience it insists it’s trying to help; that’s no way to attract and gain readers, but it’s a sure-fire way to lose them.

Say you observe something – at the office, online, in an industry publication, grocery shopping – and you think it makes a perfect allegory for a blog post. Great! But take the time to write out your thesis, develop your thoughts, search for supporting information, and see if there’s enough to the original observation to develop a strong through-line in a post or article. If there’s not, perhaps jot down your observation and place it in a Story Possibilities file or the Future section of your editorial calendar. I guarantee over time you’ll find the details you need to flesh out that idea and make it a helpful, insightful post for your readers.

The Social Full Monty: Are You Being Transparent on Purpose or by Accident?

I’m still shocked at the number of people who share their Twitter feed on LinkedIn. Facebook and Pinterest accounts, too.

It’s one thing to make a conscious decision to do the social equivalent of the Full Monty: after all, your social profile will be vetted thoroughly by most HR departments before you ever sign a contract, so why not make it explicit? Share everything in one spot and make it easy for potential employers to get to know the real you.

But, if you run your full Twitter stream on LinkedIn just because the functionality enables it, then you may want to consider doing some social redressing.

Know Your Channels

Just as television networks target certain demographics – Spike programs for young men; OWN and Lifetime seek female viewers; if ESPN doesn’t offer enough of the sports you like, there’s always the Golf and Tennis channels – social media channels serve different purposes for different audiences. (That’s why there’s so much discussion about the number of women who use Pinterest: it makes the channel a highly targeted way for brands to reach that demographic.)

Check out this interesting view from Brian Solis of the vast spectrum of social media channels and who they’re targeting.

LinkedIn is a bit unusual among the social channels because it focuses exclusively on your professional profile. Sure, you may have created a blog to showcase your professional expertise, but blogs don’t have the same capacity for professional networking and being spotted by headhunters. Likewise if you’ve shared your profile on the website of a professional organization that you’re a member of, you’ll be able to share within the organization, but it’s harder to network these profiles beyond the group’s members.

Channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, MySpace, and Orkut are far more social and casual than professional in nature. You tend to let your hair down in these settings, share opinions (sometimes regrettable ones) and photographs (ditto), swear, diss other people’s favorite bands, and sometimes even log on from places like bars or the Superbowl to write updates that demonstrate, perhaps, a propensity for imbibing intoxicating substances.

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Sure, you’ve heard all the warnings about drunk-tweeting or putting Saturday night’s party pictures on Facebook. My point is that different channels require different levels of social behavior. You wear your friend (or sister/
brother/cousin) hat on Facebook; on LinkedIn, you put on your business hat. It’s the digital equivalent of dressing up for an interview.

Unless you’re using the other social channels exclusively for business, and your only social profile is professional, then beware the convenience of linking accounts. You may reveal far more than you intended.

What’s at Stake?

You say something that a potential employer doesn’t like – and you will never know why you didn’t make it to the first, or next, round in the hiring process. You simply won’t get a call back about that dream job you wanted.

You say something negative about your existing company – and find yourself being reprimanded (worse, fired) for violating the company’s social media policy.

Your network tunes you out – and Unconnects you – because your Twitter feed clogs their Updates stream – you become the social version of spam. LinkedIn now allows you to anonymously Unconnect from Connections, which means you may already have reduced your networking options without even realizing it. Keep spamming them and see how your professional network shrinks.

You risk looking like you don’t understand the purpose of LinkedIn – which is unfortunate for anyone in any field, but especially so for communications, PR, marketing, advertising, and social media professionals. The better you understand the purpose of the social channel, the better it will work for you in reaching the people you most want to connect with.

You show the world that you don’t understand how to use LinkedIn – because there is a way to connect Twitter and LinkedIn without going Full Monty. If you decide to add your Twitter account to your LinkedIn profile, make sure that you click the option to “Share only tweets that contain #in.” As The B2B Social Media Book notes, “although it can be easy to forget to add the #in hashtag, it’s better than the alternative of posting too many irrelevant updates to your professional network, which could easily overwhelm your connections.”

You miss real opportunities to share your expertise on LinkedIn and network in a professional realm – using the Share an Update feature or within LinkedIn groups, which offer you options for starting a discussion, asking a question, or creating a poll. Like all the other social media platforms, LinkedIn has its home-grown methods of sharing, and one of them involves answering questions and professional knowledge-sharing within groups. This is where you truly network with people beyond your existing network, show them you care as much about helping them as promoting yourself, present yourself as a seasoned professional with excellent advice, and look like someone that other professionals might want to work with in the future. Don’t forgo the networking opportunities of LinkedIn by relying on a one-way blast of tweets intended for a different audience.

You look like you spend more time on Twitter than you do on your real work – and that’s the most important stake of all. Being on Twitter may be part of your job requirements; you may be a freelancer, using it to promote your work and attract new clients, but if your LinkedIn network – and the headhunters who search that network looking for good job candidates – don’t know that, your constant stream of tweets may look more like play than work.

So be your best professional self in a professional networking channel like LinkedIn and consider, in all those other social arenas, that your social self may need to be somewhat more guarded than your real self. Perhaps treat social channels like a PR or marketing person does the media. To excel in those fields, you’re always “on,” always playing the role of brand or company representative, and you never let anyone sneak a peek behind the curtain.

Be a professional spokesperson for yourself in social channels, and you may find far greater social success the less you reveal.

Check out this related post:

8 Twitter Tips for the Savvy Social Media Practitioner

Mission Drives Action in Any Crisis

Some Thursday morning thoughts on crisis and issues management.

It’s right there in the first line of Penn State University’s history: “From agricultural college to world-class learning community – the story of The Pennsylvania State University is one of an expanding mission of teaching, research, and public service.”

Nowhere in the description of its mission does Penn State mention football, though some reports have noted that the university’s athletics program’s motto is “Success with Honor.”

This week, even the student protesters on the Penn State campus would be hard pressed to suggest that the university had lived up to its mission of education and public service or that the leaders of its football program understood the role of honor.

Colleges and universities have a special place in society, different from those of most other institutions and organizations. They are communities held together by common purpose and values, and they are meant to be sanctuaries where ideas are tested, thought is emboldened, and moral courage is strengthened. While the demographics of higher education in the United States have changed significantly in the past 65 years or so – from upper class to all classes, from mainly white to a broad spectrum of both Americans and people new to this country, from young to older – there is still a sense of purpose around providing a safe and protected setting where youth can find their path in life.

I think this ultimately is what guided trustees in their decision-making when they fired PSU’s President Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno after learning that a number of athletic program and university officials had, according to reports, failed to act decisively on information that an adjunct member of the football program had allegedly abused young boys.

Many news reports have noted that university officials observed “the letter of the law,” following guidelines for reporting such incidents. But, their failure to understand the higher purpose of their community – to uphold the mission of the school and its athletic program – triggered the crisis and the trustees’ actions.

Whether you work for an institution, a brand or a corporation, your greatest vulnerability in any crisis is what people perceive as your core strength. Failure at the core will always cause more outcry among your public than an issue generated by an outside agent.

The lessons of this week for communicators are to be prepared (the old Scouts’ motto) for crises of mission or core capability and support efforts (perhaps by Human Resources, training, or as a topic for all-employee meetings) to reinforce organizational values, so that everyone understands how to make mission the driver in their day-to-day work.

Is Your Call Center Prepared?

Another issue that made the news this week was the seemingly minor matter of upgrading the Virgin America website, where many customers make, change and check on reservations. The resulting computer issues led to calls to Virgin’s 800-number to resolve reservation problems which resulted in some angry social media accounts of long hold times and hang-ups.

Since the topic for today is being prepared: If your call center was experiencing similar issues, do you know how to record updates on your phone system?

As communicators, we look for every avenue to message to our audiences during crises. We prepare talking points and FAQs and place them online and on Facebook and even YouTube. We update the message on our personal voicemails and the company’s news media line. We make sure every customer-facing employee has a copy and understands how to use them.

But, what if your audience is on hold?

Would your call center managers know how to access the system, remove Muzak or that awful recording of “Your call is important to us. Please hold for the next available operator”?

And what would they say if they could get into the system to record something for all those folks stranded on hold? A prepared statement may sound too canned to someone whose blood pressure is rising after 53 minutes on hold. A well-crafted, conversational message that acknowledges responsibility for the issue and what your company is doing to resolve it – and the long telephone wait times – may, in some cases, be all your audience needs. Even if it doesn’t completely resolve the customer’s issue, getting an update while on hold may put them in a better frame of mind when they do reach a live operator, so that the conversation isn’t full of invective.

Your call centers are important message points for your audience when issues arise. Messaging while on hold is another avenue for communicating issues and alleviating problems.

Do You Embrace Happy Accidents?

Maloof's “Happy Accident”: The hard edge.

I attended a lecture about fine furniture-maker Sam Maloof on Saturday, the Huntington Library and its botanical gardens a calm oasis after the ferment of BlogWorld.

Describing Maloof’s practice, Harold B. Nelson, curator of the elegant new exhibition “The House that Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley 1945 – 1985,” displayed a chair whose finish glowed like honey. Its lines seemed purposeful and true.

But, that purity was born from a mistake.

Maloof, who hand-carved many of his pieces, rather than use the lathe, was in his workshop one day, bringing life to a chairback. The Californians deviated from their east coast and European artistic colleagues by creating a rounded-over aesthetic. According to Nelson, as Maloof worked the wood, his hand slipped, carving a hard edge into the round-over.

Instead of chucking the chair, Maloof stood back to consider. Although it wasn’t what he’d meant to do, the hard edge added something to the soft line of the California round-over style. The hard edge, a “happy accident,” became part of the Maloof signature.

Now, you can bet that Maloof’s original accident didn’t look like the hard edge in that photo above. It could easily have been an ugly, squiggly gouge, a wound to the wood. It would’ve taken time to truly find the hard edge and perhaps even a few more accidents – happy or otherwise – before he perfected it.

The hallmark of an artist is the ability to see the potential and the willingness to let accidents happen.

We Need a Bigger Boat – and More Time

There are some classic stories of happy accidents in creative fields. One of the most famous is the failure of the mechanical shark during the filming of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.” Day after day on the watery sets around Martha’s Vineyard, “Bruce” the mechanical shark failed to slice through the waters on command – or he sank to the sandy bottom. Out of almost complete failure, Spielberg conjured cinematic magic: it was the unseen menace that created such breathtaking tension. Had Bruce swum back and forth across screen from scene to scene, the audience could have embraced his familiarity and relaxed. Not knowing – and letting the audience’s imagination take over – made “Jaws” far more powerful than seeing the shark.

Some happy accidents have become our apocryphal tales, like the one about Newton and the apple.

It takes patience to give space to possibilities like these. Patience and space require time, and that’s something many of us have precious little of these days whether we work in creative fields or corporate offices.

Still, happy accidents can be encountered as long as we’re in the frame of mind that embraces the idea that even mistakes teach us and sometimes turn out to be rather spectacular.

Have you discovered a happy accident in your writing or other creative work? How did it transform the final piece? What surprises did you encounter along the way? Do you think accidents are truly mistakes or just the creative mind searching for new possibilities? I’d love to hear what you think in the Comments section.

Just the Facts?

NPR ran an intriguing story this morning that gets to the hearts (and minds) of the people who are the targets of messaging.

The story was about the drought in the southwest United States and why, no matter how long the drought has lasted and how desperate communities have become, what many think of as an obvious solution – recycling waste-water – isn’t even on the table. So to speak.

After a quick synopsis of the drought, the story dives in to the discussion of messaging, and there’s a lot of valuable information for communicators helping their audiences cope with change.

What the advocates of recycled waste-water discovered when they tried to convince communities to adopt this solution is that no amount of scientific information could sway the good citizens. And, this isn’t a case of education level or translating science into plain English. The issue, if I might place myself into the mindset of some of these townsfolk, was: “No way, no how am I going to drink sewage-water or serve it to my family!”

Discussions with psychologists seem to have got to the root of the problem: contagion thinking. This is when one concept is so tightly bonded to another concept that no amount of facts will separate them or dissuade people from their way of thinking.

In this case, it went like this: “You can talk ‘parts per billion’ and ‘filters’ and ‘cleaning chemicals’ all you want, but nothing – and I mean nothing – is going to flush that image of sewage from my mind when I look at a glass of your filthy recycled water.”

Glass Half-Full Thinking

To aid recycling advocates, the psychologists suggested messaging that separated the original sewage water from the clean recycled water that ended up in people’s taps. Instead fresh river water and natural aquifers, rather than sewage, were identified as the source water. Of course, they were able to de-link these concepts because what they were saying was true; they’re not suggesting inventing false scenarios – that just wouldn’t wash when you’re trying to create credibility for your messages.

Now, I’m not suggesting that every audience is coping with contagion thinking. But, listening to this story this morning brought to mind some of the difficult conversations we have to have with our audiences, whether internal or external. How many times have you discovered that science, economic theory and well-researched rationale isn’t always persuasive?

Whether we’re trying to communicate changes in a benefits program or the decommissioning of a facility in a community or asking employees to work in new ways because of recently passed federal laws, our audiences have strong attachments to certain ideas and emotions about each of these actions, and facts alone may not be enough to help them change and adapt.

Internal audiences may have different concerns from external audiences. What we can do as communicators is work not just with the change management teams, senior leaders, line managers and external spokespeople, but with the audience members themselves.

It’s as important to find out what isn’t convincing your audience as it is to know what’s working, and then find new answers and reasons that speak to that emotional core of concern. With internal audiences, what we find is that every aspect of change management runs more smoothly: these concerns interfere with everything from process mapping to training and adapting to new roles. For external stakeholders, you discover that audience members feel the company has “really heard” them, and you see more engaged advocates for the change your company has embraced.

Worth listening to the whole NPR story here.

Another Summer Reading List

For book-lovers and books-list-lovers, the “long list” for the annual Man Booker Prize offers some tantalizing options from old friends and newcomers alike – including four first-time novelists.

The Man Booker Prize, now in its 43rd year, is judged by and awarded to citizens of the Commonwealth of Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

The 2011 long list includes the latest from Julian Barnes and Alan Hollinghurst (who previously won the Booker for The Line of Beauty), a Victorian thriller by D.J. Taylor, novels set in the big business world of Russia (Snowdrops) and The Last Hundred Days of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, and even something for sci-fi fans in The Testament of Jessie Lamb.

Last year’s winner, The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, was a fascinating read, grappling with issues of religion, prejudice, faith, politics and family.