Fake out: Twitter group writes the book on its grammar spoof

FEW OF THE Bureau Chiefs have actually met face to face, despite writing a book together and running the Fake AP Stylebook (@fakeapstylebook), a Twitter feed that exists solely to lampoon the conventions of good grammar and style.

"We're 90 percent online friends," said Ken Lowery, one of the 15 official members of the Bureau Chiefs and co-founder of the feed.

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RJ White, of South Philadelphia, with the book he helped to write.

"I don't know if I will meet them ever," admitted contributor RJ White, a South Philly resident.

But who needs human contact anyway? Certainly not the Bureau Chiefs. On top of the Twitter feed, which currently has an impressive 212,161 followers, last month the group released a book called "Write More Good."

The tome has a familiar tone and style for anyone who uses the global-network news service Associated Press' guide, nicknamed "the journalist's bible." Don't know what gets capitalized or italicized, or how to spell the last name of the current dictator of Libya (that would be "Gadhafi")? Look it up in the stylebook.

"Write More Good" is split up into sections, such as sports and politics, but instead of giving advice, it hands out the snark. It even defines the AP Stylebook in the glossary: "Some b-------. Thinks it's important but it's not."

"I hope it [the book] will hit big as a lazy graduation gift for English majors," said White, who works at the Center City District. "So, hopefully, I'll be getting in that lazy-gift money soon."

(Lowery recently tweeted that he was sending out royalty checks for the Chiefs. Each was for a whopping $1.09.)

The success of the Twitter feed is based on the passive quality of the medium. You don't need to keep checking in: Just subscribe to the feed and posts will land between what your friends are saying. Don't like a joke? Just move onto the next one.

But what separates "Write More Good" from other books based on Internet riffs is that it's not simply a copy-and-paste job from the Twitter feed, which sends out nuggets such as "A 'cougar' is a large cat native to North America. An older woman who pursues a younger man is 'embarrassing herself.' "

In his "fancy foreward" to the book, venerable film critic Roger Ebert praises the group for writing something original rather than reprinting what people could otherwise get for free and "raking in the dough from old media."

"It was an integrity thing for us," Lowery said, who lives in Dallas. "We don't appreciate when people do that and we didn't want to contribute to that. We're all bloggers or comedy writers, so we all jumped at the chance to expand."

The Bureau Chiefs is a far-flung group of guys (and one woman), some with connections to journalism, but most not. Their bond was initially built on blogging about comics, but evolved into an email list where they would forward each other things they found funny.

One day, Lowery, then working as a copy editor, was sitting in a webinar ("I hate that word," he added) listening to someone talk about how to promote a media outlet via social media, with the official AP Stylebook as one of the examples.

When Lowery went back to his computer, he sent an instant message to his "Internet friend" Mark Hale (who lives in Louisville, Ky., and has met Lowery once in person) and said, "I can't tell if I'm glad or sad it's not a fake AP Style Guide." They started riffing on the theme and shared it with other people on their email list, who confirmed that it was funny, and the Twitter feed began.

White - who wasn't in on the initial list but is no stranger to riffing on fake Internet memes (movie geeks: Do yourself a favor and check out fakecriterions.tumblr.com) - saw the feed and started to send his own jokes, leading to his acceptance into the loose brotherhood of the Bureau Chiefs.

Lowery and Hale took the reins of the Twitter feed and the book. Each contributor wrote a section based on his or her own interests - entertainment, sports, politics. They compiled the book via Google Documents, allowing each person to contribute and edit everyone else's work.

"I think it needed to be this group," said Lowery. "We hit the lottery in terms of group chemistry, and there's never been this much money or potential fame involved." With the help of the Bureau Chiefs he's launched a new site called The Content Farm (thecontentfarm.net), which parodies how-to sites, such as about.com. "Every single person brings their own thing to the table," he said. "If it was just Mark and me, [the feed] would have lasted a month."

"There's enough people that work on it that have backgrounds in journalism, and then there are some that don't at all," White said. "That's tempered it a bit, so some of the jokes are more general or about politics and pop culture, or that sort of thing. But then you get the ones that are just for news folks."

And none of it would have worked without the collaborative features of the Internet.

"Google certainly deserves a cut of the profits," White admitted.