« February 2012 | Home | April 2012 »

Issue for March 2012

Flow, Flow, Flow

Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 2:15 PM

How content and form must work together in the multi-page production process.

By Jan V. White

Editors honestly have no idea that such a thing as flow even exists. I know whereof I speak, because I've worked with literally thousands of editors in all these too-many years of consulting. Ostensibly, my specialty was designing multipage products (mostly magazines), but that was just labeling to merchandise my living. The real subject was not publication designing but publication making, because it is impossible to separate the intellectual content from its presentation if you hope to make those publications better. What it says and how it says -- content and form -- must work together because they are the sides of the same coin. No, wrong! They are an amalgam of the metals and appear identical in both sides of that same cliché coin.

If you find designers (of whom there are, alas, many) who think page design is in and of itself a valid artform, they may well be great page-designers. The lucky ones who find a job that pays well become advertising art directors who come up with stunning pages or spreads. Prizewinning images appear in annuals. The better such single-impression-makers they are, the lousier magazine-makers they are because multi-page product-making is a whole different animal. It is also far more difficult because it is so much more complicated. Lest you assume that this is only valid in print, I assure you that identical thinking applies for all the moveable -- i.e., multi-impression -- presentation in electronic formats. The key difference between "page-design" and "multi-page design" is that little word "multi-". ("Multi-page" is anything from a four-page newsletter to the Encyclopedia Britannica, rest its printed soul).

So why do you, sophisticated wordperson, care about that multi-page production process? Isn't that just "art" that you buy as a service? ("Too damn expensive waste of space better filled up with the valuable stuff: your words!") The answer is simple: that amalgam the coin is made of.

What follows is as concise a set of eye-opening principles, verities, realizations (call 'em what you will) as I can assemble so you get the idea. It is condensed, but each bit can be expanded into how-to chapters to explore. (Convenient and cheap way of doing that is ordering Editing by Design, 3rd ed., ISBN 1-58115-302-3 by guess who?)

Don't think of pages as static, standalone units.

Instead, see your multi-page medium the way readers do when they flip pages. Each fresh impression is a link in a chain, and the entire chain is the publication. Back to front, front to back. To enrich the product and make it successful, you must exploit its processional capabilities by understanding three interdependent techniques:

1. Realize how printed pieces are physical objects with built-in assets

a. The "thing" must be held and handled to be examined.
--Its size, weight, smell, amount, color, texture, feel is a reality.

b. We think of it as flat, but in the hand it is curved and floppy.
--On-screen the page is flat, but that is cheating. Remember reality.

c. It is glanced at fleetingly to assuage curiosity, then studied slowly.
--Watch yourself approaching a new product. You always examine it twice.

d. Only the outer halves of the pages are seen first.
--You hold it by the spine, so you can't see the inside 'til you open it up.

e. Everybody looks at page-tops, few notice page-bottoms.
--The head is where the interesting stuff goes, footnotes hide down below.

f. Space flows from left to right, across the gutter and overleaf.
--Just a habit in western cultures. Enough said?

g. Place signage where it will be noticed: left/top-left or right/top-right. Isn't it ridiculous to hide your symbols and signs in the gutter?

2. Exploit the third dimension

a. Excitement is maximally effective in a quiet context.
--A first startling element is reinforced by the next one.

b. Exploit flow to create variety, pacing, contrast, surprise.
--Sequence stories deliberately as if you were directing a movie.

c. Use horizontal instead of vertical shapes for continuity.
--Spreads are wider, larger, more impressive than boring little singles.

d. Think and plan in multi-spread patterns.
--If one is good, two is better, three is much better, four is great, five is pow!

e. Apply space-and-time series to tell the story.
--Think how effectively the "anime" word-and-picture flow works.

f. Align edges of things from page to page.
--Recognizable, repetitive placement builds valuable continuity.

g. Be precisely accurate when patterning from page to page.
--Craftsmanship bespeaks care and value. Sloppiness destroys quality.

3. Use disciplined repetition to create personality

a. Consistency builds recognition, but variety disintegrates it.
--The simpler the better because the more familiar.

b. Controlled sequence of impressions accumulates into "muchness."
--The more repetitive, the more recognizable, and thus a richer total.

c. Repetition creates recognizable rhythms.
--People are comfortable with what is familiar, expected.

d. The type is the visual glue that holds the piece together.
--Use one font (face) throughout; vary only its sizes and arrangements.

e. A grid is the structural underpinning for visual rhythms.
--Repeated relationships like alignment organize, unify, strengthen.

Jan White lectures worldwide on the relationship of editing to design. He tries to persuade word people to think visually and visual people to think verbally. He is the author of Editing by Design, 3rd Ed, and a dozen books on publishing techniques. Contact him at janvw2@aol.com.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

Wisdoms from Other Sources

Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 2:13 PM

Two books offer a myriad of advice for writers and editors alike.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Some wisdoms from other sources.

Pointers from Long

Priscilla Long's The Writer's Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life (Wallingford Press) provides a wealth of pointers.

--The Right Word

She covers "Working with Language," for instance:

"The writers of deep and beautiful works spend real time gathering words. They learn the names of weeds and tools and types of roof. They make lists of color words (ruby, scarlet, cranberry, brick). They savor not only the meanings but also the musicality of words. They are hunting neither big words nor pompous words nor Latinate words but mainly words they like. They are not 'improving their vocabulary' or studying for the SAT or the GRE. They are not trying to be fancy or decorative."

Indeed, I say. We need to be in love with words and have the urge to seek the best for every sentence, every passage, every expressed idea. The craft and art of writing begins with the search for the right word in the right place for the right reason in the right context. Be a slacker here, and we are starting with two strikes against us.

--Important Openings

She covers "How to Open," for instance:

"A great opening works like a baked Alaska: The server lights a match and it bursts into flame. It's mesmerizing, and when the flame dies down, you are ready to eat. Open with the most important thing you have to say. Spend your capital -- fast. Open with a swift, well-placed whack."

Indeed, I say. Gain the reader's attention swiftly and compellingly. Make that beginning irresistible. Cause the reader to believe, "I must go on," no matter what else is on the day's agenda.

--Art of Paragraph

She covers "The Art of the Paragraph," for instance:

"No one has read all the world's paragraphs. Whatever the qualities of many paragraphs, there may be other paragraphs with different qualities. Principles commonly taught such as 'a paragraph is about one thing' may not be true of some paragraphs. But, often a paragraph is about one thing, and often the topic sentence says what that thing is."

Indeed, I say. And author Long then identifies types of paragraphs: direct, climactic, turnabout, and "the other one" (one that lacks a topic sentence but contains a controlling idea).

--Four Structures

Elsewhere in the book, Long discusses visuality of language, sentences, punctuation, metaphors and similes, transitions, and revisions.

But a standout in The Writer's Portable Mentor is an illuminating section on structure. Long identifies and develops four structures: theme, collage, two or three-strand or braid, and dramatic story. Trust me, she teaches you each process step by step, with examples, just as she does with everything she touches upon in the book. Her approach is thorough.

Engaging Advice from Casagrande

June Casagrande's It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences: a writer's guide to crafting killer sentences (Ten Speed Press) spends more than 200 pages on that particular "how to."

Sounds boring? Sounds mundane? Sounds overdone?

I say "no" to all the above. Casagrande has written an engaging guide that not only bulges with interesting examples but deals comprehensively and intriguingly with how we can better construct what she says is the "writer's most important tool."

--Sentence Lessons

Close to up front, she says: "If you want to master the art of the sentence, you must first accept a somewhat unpleasant truth -- something a lot of writers would rather deny: The Reader is king. You are his servant. You serve the Reader information. You serve the Reader entertainment. You serve the Reader details of your company's recent merger or details of your experiences in drug rehab."

What follows is a brilliant analysis of how good sentences are formed: how nouns and verbs work within them, and adjectives and adverbs, and conjunctions and articles. The simple sentence gets its due; so do the compound and complex; so does the fragment. Phrases and clauses are distinguished, one from the other.

On length, Casagrande admits, "Personally, I have a strong bias in favor of short sentences." But she disagrees with those who "will tell you that the longer sentence is always the lesser sentence." It's a matter of depends, including how masterfully the writer has shaped that longer sentence, how well the fat has been trimmed, how firm a grasp the writer has of its structure. Grasp is tremendously important, she argues. With it, "you'll start to see sentences almost like Lego structures made up of modular, movable, interlocking pieces. This will do great things for your writing."

The author often brings humor to her instruction, such as with examples of misplaced modifiers: "Antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers" and "I photographed an elephant in my pajamas."

Samplings are generous for every lesson, and wherever it serves, she will take the reader, methodically, from a sentence that doesn't work to an altered one that does. In the process, she encourages experimentation. She shows how elements of a sentence can be moved around and, thereby, she shows how flexible our language, its usage and rules, can be.

Winding up this helpful book are lessons in grammar and punctuation, plus an appendix featuring mistakes we tend most often to make.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

The Fog Index

Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 2:09 PM

Assessing the readability of a TheDigitalBeast.com article.

This month, we calculate the Fog Index of a TheNewsBeast.com article ("Can Advertising Survive Digital? Yes—By Leaving 'Mad Men' Behind" by Dan Lyons).

"In his film, he argues that companies for decades have behaved abominably and then used advertising to cover up their behavior. The Internet, by giving consumers a voice, has rendered that strategy useless because consumers can now sink a brand with a blitz of online complaints. His advice to big brands: instead of pumping millions of dollars into advertising, why not invest that money into actually fixing your company? Don't just say you're great-actually try to be great. Once you've done that, you can use social media to spread the word."

Word count: 92
--Average sentence length: 18 words (21, 25, 23, 10, 13)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 14 percent (13/92 words)
--Fog Index: (18+14)*.4 = 12 (no rounding)

This sample comes close to the ideal. Its exact score is 12.8, but, as you may remember from past issues, the final Fog score isn't rounded. Let's see what we can do to bring the Fog Index below 12.

"In his film, he argues that companies have behaved badly for decades and used advertising to mask that behavior. The Internet has given consumers a voice and rendered that tactic useless. Now, consumers can sink a brand with a blitz of online complaints. His advice to big brands: Instead of pumping millions of dollars into advertising, why not invest that money into fixing your company? Don't just say you're great; try to be great. Once you've done that, you can use social media to spread the word."

Word count: 87
--Average sentence length: 15 words (19, 12, 12, 22, 9, 13)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (9/87 words)
--Fog Index: (15+10)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

With some tweaks here and there, we were able to shave off 3 words from the average sentence length and 4 points from the percentage of longer words. These small changes brought our Fog Index down from 12 to 10.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

Election Year Publication Content

Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 2:05 PM

In the news: How the 2012 election could be a game changer for newspapers and magazines.

Publications like the New York Times are hoping to remain popular, go-to sources of information during the 2012 elections. In order to attract customers and advertisers alike, some prominent publication brands are beefing up their election coverage with live and prerecorded video. Earlier this month, the New York Times and Politico.com offered video Super Tuesday coverage.

When asked about the Times' video strategy, assistant managing editor Gerald Marzorati emphasized the importance of reaching consumers across multiple platforms. The newspaper has plans for more live and prerecorded video content in the future, which could spark an industry-wide trend. Read more here.

Also notable

Variety for Sale

Last week, Reed Business Information (RBI) announced that it would be putting Variety magazine up for sale. The publishing giant's CEO cited the company's shift away from print magazine publishing and toward data services in its statement regarding the sale. Read more here.

MPA Digital: Swipe Conference

Last week, publishing professionals gathered for the MPA Digital: Swipe digital conference, an industry event that focuses on digital publishing strategy. Of particular interest this year was tablet magazine publishing. Digital magazine content producers have the opportunity to engage their readers on new levels and offer them a more customized experience than ever before. Read more about the conference here.

The Publishing Business Conference and Expo

Also last week was the annual Publishing Business Conference and Expo in New York City, where publishing professionals gathered to discuss, among other topics, changing reader trends and preferences, and digital publishing strategy. Among the keynote speakers were Josh Tyrangiel, editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, who discussed the importance of catching a potential reader's attention at a glance in an age of short reader attention spans. Read more about the conference here.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

« February 2012 | Top | April 2012 »