A Handy Tip for Publicists

When you are sending out a press release to promote a book, do try to make sure that the second half of your press release doesn’t devolve into Martian gibberish, even if the author you are promoting is science fiction’s own Robert Silverberg. Most of us don’t read Martian, and those of us who do, don’t want to advertise the fact.

That said, the book being promoted here, Silverberg’s autobiography Other Spaces, Other Times, is in fact a lovely book which I can recommend to Silverberg fans and those who’d like a first hand view of the genre’s history, from one of its Grand Masters (who is also, I can personally attest, just an absolutely wonderful human being). And at no point does the book itself devolve into Martian gibberish. That’s a guarantee. Give it a look.

41 thoughts on “A Handy Tip for Publicists

  1. I bet that so called “gibbering” is actually code describing the big writing project Scalzi just finished.

  2. This is classic. The person printing the press release shut down the application they wrote it in, while it was still being shot to the printer. Delightful.

    So much for proofreading.

  3. “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Ejtujcvufelcz!JCH!” especially pleases me for some strange reason. It just seems so insistent. Now if only we could decode this Martian to find out what is bothering them so much. Is it about workers’ rights? Do they employ Martian immigrants at ridiculously low wages? Is it a sign for a Martian uprising…?
    Perhaps it is Martian poetry.
    !sf r vf tu!

  4. A second, but ultimately equally important point:

    When writing down a list of SF grand masters, spell Arthur C. Clarke’s name right.

  5. I am a little offended at the misspelling of Arthur C. Clarke‘s name. The Martian text, at least you can sort of see the reason for that; but why would a publicist not check the spelling of proper names three times before printing the document?

  6. In 1989 or so I was studying in England. My primitive dot-matrix printer would, on occasion, inject short strings of random symbols into text. I was not a big proofreader. Hence my tutors would on occasion pause in the middle of some essay about the use of “policy” in Shakespeare’s histories or something and stare at ^%mF1).

    It was quite a while before one of them mentioned it. Apparently they thought it was just . . . American.

  7. These days you never know when someone is trying a promotional ARG vs. a printer going insane.

  8. Ah, Martian gibberish. I’m quite familiar with it. Normally, I’ve gotten it when I’ve sent a PDF to the printer before it’s fully downloaded to my computer. I’ve since learned to make sure that I have the full file, of course. The thing that amazes me is that it wasn’t instantly spotted by whoever was printing it or sending it out.

  9. It’s not Martian, it’s the secondary language of Majipoor. The Majipooran’s were quite confused with the English gibberish that filled their version.

  10. Are you sure it’s Martian and not some kind of Lovecraftian thing?

    “I cannot describe the horror of this newly-published novel, and yet I must; I hear the rustling of its pages behind me even now OH GOD I SEE IT PHANL’GNL WF’HURG ONE!!!!1111……”

    That, or cats are now working as publicists.

  11. This reminds me of the time when my printer gave up ghost just as a term paper was due. I borrowed someone else’s printer to print my paper. The paper was in German, which has four extra letters (ä, ö, ü and ß). Unfortunately, the borrowed printer has been bought somewhere in Asia and could not handle the German letters. So it simply left them out. All of them in the entire paper. A paper which happened to be intended for a linguistics class.

    Luckily, the professor had a sense of humour and some experience with computer and printer trouble.

  12. John, you’re showing your anti-Martian bias. Don’t be hatin’!

    As for Silverberg, I still adore his novel “Across a Billion Years”. Yummy stuff, very much like classic Heinlein. I keep meaning to assemble a list of “If you like classic Heinlein, you’ll like these books” for my blog some time…us old cobbers gotta stick together! No huhu.

  13. Once upon a time, on a typical work day, I sent a perfectly typical office memo to the printer. The document printed, in typical fashion…

    BUT the entire memo was now in GREEK!!!

    Now, translating into Southern drawl I could have understood, but Greek?

    Never figured out how it did it, and it never happened again. I still have the document someplace, I kept it just for the giggles it provides every time it surfaces.

  14. BBjhlwed ™£¢∫˜çπø ¡£¢u09jd034nd03dh ∂ md
    fdb ∂˜¢∂˜ n34df 0- smnc p9nw;xcn qopcbh7934 criob

    kcbr p3 LOL irbn8p

  15. I’m perplexed by the way it left the format and layout of the gibberish paragraphs intact, while giving the actual text the twilight zone treatment; that sure as hell doesn’t resemble a Postscript driver going bugfuck. And note the way the font, point size, and weight all change at the exact place where the text goes woo-woo?

    Looks to me like a really buggy driver with no error correction, that dropped a packet betwixt PC and printer. (That, and a publicist without the nous to actually look at what they were stuffing in an envelope.)

    Unless the printer has been possessed by an extradimensional abomination …?

  16. My wife’s had something very similar happen – if it’s the same, you can actually decipher the output with a little practice.

    It’s essentially a simple cypher; instead of ‘a’ you get ‘b’, instead of ‘c’ you get ‘b’. (And anyone who knows ASCII will know, instead of ‘ ‘, you get ‘!’). But the spacing is also randomly broken, which makes deciphering harder.

    I think it’s the same here; I see “ui f” as a common phrase in the document – this is what “the” becomes under the process.

    I have no idea WHY this happens, however. In fact, I find it very hard to think how a driver could do this, but it obviously does happen. If I had to guess, I’d suspect an off-by-one error for a pointer into a glyph table.

  17. This sort of thing happens a lot with PDFs. Mostly because there is an unnoticed different font in there. What usually happens is that hiccup then fubars the remaining text of the document. This happens because PDF now vigo[u]rously enforces font DRM restrictions, so if there was a[n accidental] font change in the original document, PDF only embeds the exact characters of the font. Example, “the” spelled in new font results in only “e”, “h” and “t” of that font being embedded. Consequently, when trying to render stuffs, the bug/defect happens because only those 3 letters are in the font table, and only those 3 can get rendered correctly by the printer, with the remaining text gibberished.

    I say “accidental font change” because most folks don’t intend for their correspondence to look like a ransom letter. Although I had a previous boss who thought that was good marketing – to have at least 10 different fonts per page. And because MS Word’s behavior in crufting up files, it is quite possible for there to be archaeological debris in the file that one doesn’t even know is present.

    And by “vigo[u]rously” (see, has optional “U” for reading on either side of the Atlantic) I mean that they’ll enforce the most restrictive interpretation of the mostly mutually exclusive bit flags being set.

  18. Um. That looks like it has been photoshopped.

    Several clues.

    The biggest is that the garbage text is not on the same orientation as the good text. It is angled a few degrees down. This is very difficult to do on any word processor that I know of. Especially unintentionally. Even more, each of the four paragraphs of garbage are rotated slightly more than the last.

    Second, the font is different. The garbage is in a san serif font, the good text is serifed.

    Third, the garbage text is bold. The good text is not.

    Fourth, the background, paper, color of the garbage is several shades darker than the good.

    Fifth, the line spacing on the garbage is three pixels, the good is four.

    So, our supposed drunken/drugged/possessed copy writer would have had to, during his psychic fugue, changed font, bolded it, changed line rotation, changed background color, changed line spacing, written five lines of nonsense, changed the line rotation again, written nine more lines of nonsense, changed the line rotation a third time, changed the orientation to center the text, written five more lines, this time interspersed with exclamation marks. Then saved and transmitted the result.

    Doing all that accidentally, or in a fit of madness, seems unlikely.

  19. Dear Galbinus Caeli:

    Please stop thinking so hard about a printer error photographed at a slight angle, with a shadow on it, and then cropped.

    Unless you’re trying to be amusing, in which case: Excellent imitation of pedantry, indeed.

  20. John,

    You missed a third possibility, perhaps Galbinus is Robert Silverberg’s publicist

  21. Unless you’re trying to be amusing, in which case: Excellent imitation of pedantry, indeed.

    Actually that’s not an imitation of pedantry (as indeed it’s not possible to do an imitation of pedantry that isn’t itself actually pedantry, thereby negating the “imitation” modifier) that’s a criticism of your pagan refusal to use a scanner or at least use a flash when you take a simple picture like this.

    Also, isn’t the first line of that press release grammatically incorrect? it should be “So is Robert Heinlein, Phillip K. Dick and Authur C. Clarke” not “So are“.

    The martian is fine though.

  22. Some glitch caused the printer (or software renderer, whichever stage converts drawing instructions to image pixels) to start using a different font. The text becomes gibberish because the document representation is using the glyph numbering specific to the intended font, but wrong for the new one, and the spacing is bizarre because the glyphs are pre-placed according to the sizes of the intended glyphs, not the wrong ones.

  23. Dave @ 21: That does look like what happened here. The first mangled word is “special”, shifted to “sqfdjbm”, and the press release appears to end with a “– 30 –” shifted to a “==41==” or something like that. The resolution of the picture isn’t quite good enough to make the text decipherable without a lot of work.

  24. This is funny/sad to me. Tanguarena’s assessment is pretty much right on. I’ve encountered the same problem many times when my users attempt to print-to-fax a PDF containing a font that’s not available on the system. The process converting the PDF to a TIF file for faxing dutifully does so, without regard to what the text actually looks like.

    Potential vendors call back confused, asking why their signup form was gibberish.

    It’s somewhat of a relief to see it plagues others as well.

    ok, enough IT bloviation.

  25. Paragraph 3 starts out with something like “Some of Silverberg’s taken for granted.” Near the bottom, the “JTCO” line is an ISBN; the next line is “Publication date: June 2009″ and “Distributed by IPG”, I think. Then “Contact nonstop”, “nonstop press”.

    I don’t think I’ll try to parse any more of it. But I’m sure that Dave has identified the cause.

  26. Meanwhile, if I was a book page editor or buyer for an indie bookstore (yes, Virginia, they’re not totally extinct) having that pile of shit land in my inbox would just guarantee it being dispatched straight back into the ether and my interest in the title being pimped remaining at zero.

    Epic fail is how the kids put it, I believe.

  27. What is the purpose of the release? To get people to notice and write about the product or service and then to buy it.

    It worked. I’d expect more of this stuff.

    It’s unusual, you noticed. In the dot.com days you would see stuff like this for new product launches. I remember PR people sending fake hand grenades, “the product is explosive!”
    chocolate shaped stuff and reversed product press releases. “don’t go backwards with your security!”

    The brilliant move here is it looks like an accident. This allows people to “fix” the problem. Of course this is what I would tell the client if he called to complain. “Did Scalzi blog about it? Did Charlie Stross trouble shoot it? Did the core IT/SF audience spend time in “Mr Fix-it” mode? Yes,Yes,and yes. And they will be reminded of how great Silverburg is as a writer. If I has sent out a standard release the audience could engage their superior feelings about grammer, printer drivers, PDF’s and the correct spelling of famous SF writers.”

    The problem withthis strategy is that instead of people understanding your brilliance they think you just messed up. You should really tell the client first. “This will look like an error, but it will engage the audiences’ puzzle solving skills and pull them into the story. But don’t tell them I did it on purpose. Just pretend I’m the dumbest person in the room and could the stories and watch the sales re in because of the “stupid” PR person.”

    Acting stupid is hard to do for people with big egos but if it works for you, use it.

  28. Anyone finding this topic of interest will enjoy (if they haven’t read it already) the story “Babel II” by Damon Knight.

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