SPAM Public Service Announcement

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

November 15, 2017

We’ve had a blast at the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo, and great guffaws from Little and Laugh thanks to the Real Geoff Le Pard and all who entered his contest. And we’ve had fun with Spammer in Residence, Nanjo Castille. He seems to be having fun, too.

We like humor in the literary arts. We like to share laughs among friends. But let’s have a serious talk about spam for a moment.

According to Askimet, spam is “the underbelly of the web.” By October 30, 2017, Askimet caught its 400 billionth spam comment. If you pay for your Word Press website, you receive this filter. Who knows, maybe the Real Nanjo Castille was number 400,000,000,000.

What is this underbelly, exactly? My own definition is that it’s poor marketing. Spam manipulates the sales technique “the more you ask, the more you sell.” I still shudder at those cold-call nights after I left magazine publishing and sold insurance as an agent. I hated it. I hated picking up the phone, interrupting people’s lives with a sales pitch.

Spam is the same idea based on mass numbers producing more sales, or click-thrus. You see, advertisers pay money to get their ads seen. Nanjo is not really selling purses, or perfume, or dongles, or forklifts.  A spammer wants to lure you to a bogus website. Click. You just became a number. Those numbers add up and shady marketers charge advertisers by those clicks.

Spam can be a nuisance. It can spread disinformation (think of those fake news chain emails telling you to forward to five more people or your guardian angel loses her wings). It can lead to phishing. Spam can include malicious downloads. You can learn more and how to play it safe on the web at Tech Journey.

Authors and bloggers inadvertently become spammers, too. This goes back to the poor marketing practices of cold-calling and interrupting strangers with a sales pitch. It doesn’t work. It’s disingenuous. It robs your time and energy and the recipient’s time and energy (that’s why spam sucks — it’s a thief of time).

However, Nanjo reminds us that even spammers are human (not bots). Writers selling books are human, too. Spammers do what they do, cold-callers do what they do, and book sellers do what they do, all to earn a living. Let’s be frank about that. It can be incredibly difficult these days to earn a living in sales. It’s even more difficult to earn a living as a writer.

Yet, in order to sell, you still have to ask. And it’s hard. Think about this for a moment — what if spamming is easy because we dehumanize ourselves to turn into robot mode buy-my-book-buy-my-book, and it’s not us making the ask, its bot-self making the ask. I know when I made those cold calls, the only way I got through those nights was by turning off internally.

Therefore, good marketing is uncomfortable. It’s only human to feel vulnerable when pitching your idea, book or product to another. As much as you might prefer a technique that allows you to turn off, don’t. You need to engage. You need to understand that rejection isn’t personal, it’s simply that you didn’t reach your right target. Adjust. Aim better. Stay human.

Two attributes of good marketing are work ethic and authenticity. Work ethic means you take the time to build a platform and authenticity means you take the time to match up your product to those who want it.

It’s a simple answer but complex to set up and execute. It takes thought, strategy, pushing through resistance, maintaining confidence when you have doubt, building relationships, understanding channels of distribution, defining and finding your target audience, innovating, gathering feedback, promoting, and understanding what platform and marketing are.

Not so simple, after all. Thus spamming is easier if you can numb yourself to doing it. Instead, let’s be vulnerable, let’s learn and grow and build. As writers. As marketers. Let’s respect each other’s path, our time, and our shared humanity. Let’s laugh. Not at anyone, but in that grand mystical way when humor breaks down barriers and lightens our burdens and illuminates our human foibles.

And above all, let’s reach out to one another through the empowerment of creating literary art.

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    • Charli Mills

      Thought we needed a PSA after having fun with spam. Thanks!

  1. Annecdotist

    You’re so right, Charli. It can be hard to be polite to some cold callers who are so numb they behave like robots and make you feel the same. But we’ve probably all done it in some way, unless we are supremely confident. I know that when I first started submitting, although I tried to conceptualise my pitch from the point of view of the person receiving it, I was so anxious I had to numb myself to a degree just to get anything sent out. But it can be a vicious circle with impersonal engendering impersonal replies, which feeds the anxiety. A timely reminder there is another way!

    • Charli Mills

      It’s the rare person who naturally feels at home with marketing (or “selling” our ideas, emotions, thoughts, hopes, dreams) to others. But with the risk comes reward. Someone might be delighted to buy our book. After my ill-fated insurance agent career (what was I thinking? Oh, yeah, that I had to pay off student loans for a degree in creative writing…) I swore I’d never sell anything I didn’t believe in. That’s where I began exploring authenticity in business models and marketing. If you love your book, love to write, love to discover what fiction brings to mind, then share the love. That’s the strongest platform to stand upon.

  2. Allie P.

    I paid my bills for several painful months by working at a call center. I had to make proactive reminder calls to academic institutions regarding compliance with government grants, but it felt very much like a cold sales call. I still get twitchy thinking about it.

    As a result, I used to be sympathetic with those calls knowing the people on the other end were just people too, trying to make ends meet. And I still am, to a point, except when it becomes obvious they are reading from a script without deviation rather than listening to my responses and altering their pitch accordingly.

    • Charli Mills

      I twitch with you, Allie! I used to be sympathetic, too. In fact, when I received advertising cold calls, I’d give sales reps an education in how to solve their clients’ needs. I felt like I trained up some excellent reps!

      But nowadays. I don’t know. Often I use services because they have good customer call centers, like Verizon. Geico Insurance used to be amazing. I think cold calls are diminishing just because fewer people have landlines, and screening and ignoring calls are too easy.

      Today, I had to call a Wisconsin marshmallow company (had to, mind you, yam casserole is at risk). The owner was not friendly at first until he realized I was asking about allergens. He apologized profusely, said he was even embarrassed. With my “weird” Idaho area code he was certain I was a spam call!

  3. Sherri Matthews

    Arrgh…it is hard, and the thought of self-promotion and marketing turns my blood to ice. You explain it so well here Charli, and how important to remind us the need to build our platforms with authenticity and patience, and not least of all, respect! And to keep those spammers at bay! Have shared this on my FB page 🙂


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