For anyone who has suffered through reading the entire AP Stylebook for a journalism class, there’s a cathartic release when reading the dry wit of the @FakeAPStylebook feed on Twitter. It combines parody of the journalism usage bible with funny repartee and the absurd. That mix has brought amazing success to the people behind the feed: more than 40,000 followers in 15 days, plus they’ve scored a literary agent for a book deal.
Here are some of my favorite recent tweets from @FakeAPStylebook:
> STAR WARS Episodes IV-VI are to be referred to as “The Original Trilogy.” Episodes I-III are not to be referred to at all.
> When there’s no more room in Hell, omit the final paragraphs to save space.
> When composing a story about strange murders, always refuse to believe the kids until it’s too late.
> It is poor newsroom etiquette to throw yourself out of the window to prove that your co-worker is Superman.
While Callie Kimball was touting her sleuthing prowess in uncovering the identities of the folks behind the feed for Wired Epicenter, I simply emailed them and asked them to tell me their story. The two main guys behind @FakeAPStylebook are Ken Lowery, a copy editor at United Methodist Reporter in Dallas, and Mark Hale, an unemployed friend of Lowery’s in Louisville, Ky. They work with a motley crew of contributors online called “The Bureau Chiefs.” Here’s a rundown of who they are:
David Campbell, 40, Seattle, Wash. — copywriter, ArenaNet
Andrew Otis Weiss, 37, Woburn, Mass. — communications specialist
David Lartigue, 41, Springfield, Mass. — database whatzit (not technically a DBA)
Kevin Church, 35, Somerville, Mass. — online marketing specialist
Dorian Wright, 34, Santa Barbara, Calif. — currently unemployed
Mike Sterling, 40, Oxnard, Calif. — manager, Ralph’s Comic Corner
Chris Sims, 27, Columbia, S.C. — freelance writer
Benjamin Birdie, 33, Astoria, NY — graphic designer
Josh Krach, 35, Las Vegas, Nev. — freelance designer
John DiBello, New York City — national Internet account manager, W.W. Norton
Dr. Andrew Kunka, 39, Florence, S.C. — associate professor of English, USC-Sumter
R.J. White, 34, Philadelphia — manager of media relations
Matt Wilson, 26, Chattanooga, Tenn. — reporter
Anna Neatrour, 34, Salt Lake City — librarian
Eugene Ahn, Washington DC, 29 — attorney
Shane Michael Bailey, 32, Jacksonville, Fla. — web designer/developer
Here’s an edited transcript of my phone conference call with Lowery and Hale. We spoke about how the feed became an overnight sensation, what a potential book will be like, and their fears of legal trouble with the Associated Press.
How did the idea come about for @FakeAPStylebook?
Ken Lowery: I just became aware of the real @APStylebook Twitter feed, and sent the link to Mark because he was a journalism student at one time, and I thought it might interest him. He had said, “I don’t know if I’m sad or relieved that this is not a fake account” because there are so many joke accounts for celebrities. That’s when the inspiration struck. We passed back and forth a few jokes, and put them on out Twitter feeds and asked our own followers if they thought it was a good idea. We got a “yes” so we went ahead with it.
Tell me more about the group working on the Twitter joke feeds?
Mark Hale: A lot of us have joke Twitter feeds: Ken has two or three, one of our other contributors has at least three, and I had one I abandoned a couple months ago because I couldn’t sustain it. This was in that same vein, but it hit a nerve with more people than anything we had done.
Ken Lowery: I’ve done some before… with some success. @Zombiehorde has about 600 followers, and is the articulate thoughts of a bunch of zombies. Then there is @ThisReallyHurts, which has 200 followers and is just a guy describing extreme pain, which is a dumb gag but it seems to work for some people. The same group latching onto this new joke [of @FakeAPStylebook] really took off.
How do you guys operate as a group? Do you use instant messaging?
Hale: It’s basically an email list through Google Groups. It’s funny to me how popular email lists have become again. They were pretty popular in the mid-‘90s and tapered off, but they serve us quite well. We always have our instant messaging windows open, so people are always saying, ‘how about this?’ or ‘how about that?’
Lowery: We have the Google Group going and we have a few threads established. [There’s] one for the open submissions thread, one for open questions when people ask the Fake AP questions. We link to the question and all throw out answers, and we’re able to suggest responses, tweak them, and fine-tune them. Mark and I are basically the editors but as far as the actual creative part goes, it’s a roundtable.
What happened after you launched the feed, and how fast did you get a big following?
Lowery: The first day we got upwards of 1,000 followers, which was explosive and way more than we expected. Then, Wednesday morning, the next day, Newsweek’s Twitter feed mentioned it, and it just boomed completely out of control after that. A few blogs like the Chicago Tribune’s [Eric Zorn] have basically been quoting stuff because it makes them laugh. That’s how it’s gone since then. By Saturday, four days in, we had about 9,000 followers.
Hale: By that Sunday, after being live for about a week, we passed the real @APStylebook feed. We don’t want to be egomaniacal, but…
Lowery: We were just looking for a metric at that point because it seemed so crazy and out of control. ‘How do we measure our success here?’ And that was it. Late last week, we hit a terminal velocity and it slowed down a little bit. But got a fresh round of [sign-ups] after the Wired article and a couple other articles. It’s begun anew.
Hale: We’ve officially passed the population of my small hometown, New Albany, Ind., according to the 2000 census figures. It’s across the river from Louisville.
When did you first hear from literary agents?
Lowery: I think it was day two. It was Thursday, which is when we heard from the first one, who we eventually went with. Then we heard from another on Friday, and since then, we’ve heard from five or six more. Kate McKean at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency was the one we chose.
Hear them talk about their excitement when they heard that comedian Michael McKean liked their feed:
Why do you think out of all the things you’ve done that this one has resonated with so many people
Lowery: Initially, the first popularity came from journalists who said, “I needed this” or “this made my week” or “this is very cathartic.” My own highfalutin theory is that journalists have taken a pretty bad beating the past few years in public perception and job security, and this is a way to goof off without being mean or cynical. It’s been journalists, salespeople, marketing people, English teachers, students, and fans of word humor [following us].
Did all the contributors meet online?
Hale: I think some of us know each other in real life. I’ve never met any of them in person.
Lowery: Same here. We’re pretty well scattered all over the country. We initially hooked up because we’re all big nerds. At one point we all ran comic book blogs just goofing on comic books. We did all our own blogs, but commented on each other’s blogs over the years. Through that we developed a friendship, a writer’s workshop, whatever you want to call it.
How will the book be formatted? Will it contain tweets and some original material as well? Will it look like the actual AP Stylebook?
Hale: It won’t look so much like the official book. It will take a subject, say entertainment, and then it will tell you how to cover obituaries of celebrities, how to approach closeted gay celebrities, how to review a fine art piece, and a glossary, which will be more like the actual guide.
Lowery: The way we have it mapped out now is there will be a sections like sports, entertainment, medicine, etc., with tips on writing up front, and then a glossary of terms that looks more like the Stylebook and the Twitter feed. The stuff we’ve put together so far for the entertainment chapter is about 75 percent or 85 percent original material that hasn’t gone live.
Hear Lowery talk about the tone of the @FakeAPStylebook feed as a faceless voice of authority:
Have you heard from people at the AP about what you’re doing, and do you have a fear that they might come after you?
Lowery: We have fans who are AP reporters. We were approached early on by an AP reporter to do a story about us, but nothing came of it. We are talking about changing the name if and when the book becomes a reality. Part of the bind is that this is how people know us now. If we change it too much, then we could potentially lose everyone… We’re already thinking about it and tossing around ideas, but some of this might be up to the agent or publisher.
What do you think about @FakeAPStylebook? What are your favorite tweets from them? Share your thoughts and favorites in the comments below.
Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.