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Issue for May 2014

Enliven and Explain with Color, Part I

Posted on Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 10:51 AM

Using color to convey your message.

By Jan V. White

Your message must be noticed immediately and understood clearly. Design is not namby-pamby vaporware. It is as fundamental to effective communication as the words themselves. Just as the voice and body language of a speaker affect the way the message is received, so does the graphic surrogate for voice and body language, i.e., "design." They must speak the same language, which is simultaneously verbal as well as visual. The two are inextricable. Form and content are one.

Given the mass of information we're deluged by, the effective piece must prove its worthiness at first glance:

--what it is about.
--what's in it for the individual recipient.
--why he/she should bother to pay attention.
(BTW: This is where "tone of voice" comes in: visual shouting represents audible shouting).

To emphasize the worthwhile, material requires:

--an intellectual decision -- which great stuff deserves emphasis.
--a visual decision -- how to display it so it pops out.
(BTW: This is how the reluctant scanners are persuaded to read).

I've been in our beloved profession for nigh on half a century and have battled all these vested interests who argue, "We've always done it that way," "Leave it alone," "That's what they expect," "I like it this way." Trouble is that so many verbal people don't realize how much better their piece could be, and how much more responsive their targets could be, if they could only imagine how to handle their material better. It isn't brain surgery but plain common sense. Trust me.

Consider Color

It is merely a newspeg on which your story's improvement can be hung. It is a component of vibrant communication. Its prettiness and glamor can be used to open doors. Open doors to what? Delivering a bigger bang for the buck. Forget prettiness. Aesthetics as such are indeed namby-pamby. To be effective, concentrate on clarity.

Color is enrichment. Of course. It can be dazzling, but eye candy isn't enough. "What's in it for me?" asks the potential disinterested viewer. Use common sense.

Color's usefulness may be statistically quantifiable. Nonsense. Brightness, contrast, size, and position are just a few factors besides hue. Even focus groups can't be sure that it reduces errors by X% or increases recognition by Y%. Forget it. Use common sense.

Color looks good. Sure, it can. In the eye of the beholder. It is a hard-to-define will o' the wisp emotional response that you can't argue about or prove. Use common sense.

Colors have symbolic meaning. Purple is regal in Western culture. Red is hot. Blue is dignified. Other cultures have other meanings. So what? Use common sense.

Color is a newspeg on which the story's precision can be hung. Absolutely. It is a component of vibrant communication. Its prettiness and glamor can be used to open doors to deliver a bigger bang for the buck. Now you're talking.

Color must engage the mind of the beholder. Right! It isn't a response to "niceness" but rather to curiosity. It induces the reader to delve more deeply into the piece.

Color is a working raw material. Precisely! That's all this exhortation is about. It is a raw material that must be blended with astute page design to draw the reader's attention to the significance of the material. The overriding (obvious) fact is that color is different from the normal black. Once you realize that value, you can control it to your purpose.

Always define working color by asking:

--Why do you want to put color there?
--What is its purpose in your piece?
--What do you want it to do for you?

More to Come

Next issue I'll show you 20 services that color can do for you, and offer 20 practical tips to use color correctly.

Jan V. White is author of the classic Editing by Design, Third Edition (Allworth Press, available on Amazon). Eight of his other books are now in the public domain and available for free at http://openlibrary.org/books. He may be reached at janvw2@aol.com.

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Conviction, Creativity, and Courage

Posted on Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 10:48 AM

Lessons from a lecture recently given at a conference for writers.

By Peter P. Jacobi

From the outset, you need conviction, creativity, and courage, for without them you are lost.


Belief in yourself, faith that you can accomplish what you are setting out to do, confidence that what you've chosen to write is a right fit, self-assurance that you are the appropriate person to tackle the project you've decided is next on your to-write list. Be convinced to go forward.


Imbue the work ahead with all the imagination at your command, all the inspiration, all the crafty ingenuity, all the innate inventiveness, all the talent you can muster, all the originality of thought you can collect from the depth and breadth of your artistic being. Be fully creative as you go forward.


Be audacious and brave and daring and lionhearted and resolute and tenacious and undaunted. Have the courage to go forward.

Time Is Precious

As you buttress yourself with conviction and employ creativity and move forward with courage, remember that all you do happens in time: the development of an idea, the gathering of information, the planning and structuring of your composition, the writing and editing and rewriting. It all happens in time, your time. And if and when that manuscript is published and falls into the hands of a reader, your handiwork enters that person's life and takes his or her time.

Time is a frisky thing, and furtive, and fleeting. Time is precious. Your time is precious. Your reader's time is precious. Wasting your own time is unfortunate, a crime done to yourself. Wasting someone else's time, that of your reader, is unpardonable. Of course, the reader may seek to avoid the crime, doable just by putting a stop to the reading, in which case more of your own time will have been wasted because with every reader who drops you, the effort you put into your story will be reduced in effectiveness.

We need, as writers, to use our own time judiciously. And we need to hope that our readers, because of our good work, will give of their time willingly. How, pray, does that happen?

Win, Hold, and Reward Your Reader

Your difficult and ongoing task is to accomplish three connected goals: Win your reader. Hold your reader. And reward your reader. Win through enticement, hold through entertainment, reward through enrichment.

Winning Your Reader

The reader comes to you seeking to fulfill an informational or emotional need. The need may be deep-seated and of import, consequential, or it may be just a casual search for momentary pleasure. One or the other, if what you have written comes across as artistically valid, verbally agile, and structurally sound, that reader's need, his or her expectation, will be met. You will have won your reader.

But easy that is not. You must make matters fall in line, four matters. You conquer with topic the idea, the concept you have generated in mind and heart: the topic has to be of interest, appealing, seductive. You conquer with substance, the material you have gathered, the information, the details: the substance has to be of interest, appealing, seductive. You conquer with approach, the way you develop the topic, the plan of attack, the chosen order, the inclusions and exclusions: the approach has to be of interest, appealing, seductive. You conquer with language,your prose, your style of expression, your use of words: the language has to be of interest, appealing, seductive.

Easy that is not. And to conquer, you must -- throughout this usually arduous process -- know your audience. Know for whom you are writing.

How important in all this is the word. Mark Twain argued: "The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter -- it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

Cultural philosopher Jacques Barzun, in his perceptive book on writing, Simple & Direct, has this response for those who do not bother to fuss over a word. It is not enough, he says, "to pay attention to words only when you face the task of writing -- that is like playing the violin only on the night of the concert. You must attend to words when you read, when you speak, when others speak. Words must become ever present in your waking life, an incessant concern, like color and design if the graphic arts matter to you, or pitch and rhythm if it is music, or speed and form if it is athletics. Words, in short, must be there, not unseen and unheard."

Words: choose them carefully. And from words create your sentences. Henry David Thoreau addressed that task. He asked for "Sentences, which suggest far more than they say, which have an atmosphere about them, which do not merely report an old impression but make a new one, sentences which suggest as many things and are as durable as a Roman aqueduct: to frame these, that is the art of writing."

Not often heard counsel on first sentences comes from Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tracy Kidder. Hear and heed: "Writers are told that they must 'grab' or 'hook' or 'capture' the reader. But think about these metaphors. Their theme is violence and compulsion. They suggest the relationship you might want to have with a criminal, not a reader.... Beginnings are an exercise in limits. You can't make the reader love you in the first sentence or paragraph, but you can lose the reader right away. You don't expect the doctor to cure you at once, but the doctor can surely alienate you at once, with brusqueness or bravado or indifference or confusion. There is a lot to be said for the quiet beginning."

All this please consider in your effort to win the reader, task number one.

About the second task, hold the reader, and the third, reward the reader, next month in installment two.

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.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 10:35 AM

Calculating the Fog Index of a TheVerge.com excerpt.

This month, we analyze the Fog score of text from a May 27 TheVerge.com article ("Amazon Confirms Its Fight with Publishing Giant Hachette Is Real, and It's Far From Over" by David Pierce). Here's the sample:

"Amazon's spat with publishing conglomerate Hachette has been unofficial but well-documented, as the retail giant uses its considerable muscle to gain more favorable terms in a deal with one of its largest book partners. On Tuesday it swung its biggest hammer yet, saying formally that it's buying less inventory from Hachette and is no longer taking pre-orders on its books. That means that while you can still buy a Hachette book on Amazon, you can't do so ahead of its publication date, and the company will only buy the book from Hachette when you buy it from Amazon. That means slow shipping and no cheaper prices -- none of the perks of being an Amazon supplier or customer."

--Word count: 117 words
--Average sentence length: 29 words (34, 26, 38, 19)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 9 percent (10/117 words)
--Fog Index: (29+9)*.4 = 15 (no rounding)

Our Fog Index here is a few points above the ideal (less than 12). The clear culprit is the 29-word average sentence length, so let's see if we can break up the text a bit.

"Amazon's spat with Big Five publisher Hachette has been unofficial but well documented. Thanks to its considerable muscle, the retail giant has gained more favorable terms in a deal with one of its largest book partners. On Tuesday it swung its biggest hammer yet, confirming that it's buying less inventory from Hachette and is no longer taking pre-orders on its books. That means that while you can still buy a Hachette book on Amazon, you can't do so ahead of its publication date. What's more, the company will only buy the book from Hachette when you buy it from Amazon. That means slow shipping and no cheaper prices -- none of the perks of being an Amazon buyer or seller."

--Word count: 119 words
--Average sentence length: 20 words (13, 23, 25, 22, 17, 19)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 6 percent (7/119 words)
--Fog Index: (20+6)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

We made very light tweaks to this passage to improve the Fog score, with a net gain of two words. Four sentences became six, and we cut a few longer words for good measure. In the end, we reduced our Fog Index by five points without reinventing the wheel.

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Crossing the Cover/Ad Divide

Posted on Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 10:33 AM

In the news: Time Inc. is pushing the ASME envelope in the name of ad revenue. Will it pay off?

In what many magazine insiders consider to be a bold move, Time Inc. has started unveiling Time and Sports Illustrated covers with tiny Verizon ads on the cover. Until now, magazines have avoided running ads on cover I because ASME guidelines have long discouraged it. According to AdAge.com, Time Inc. is also considering running ads in its tables of contents, another piece of magazine real estate typically reserved for editorial content only.

Could this mean more cover ads in the future? It's a risky move. ASME's first print magazine guideline, as stated on its website, is: "Don't Print Ads on Covers. The cover is the editor and publisher's brand statement. Advertisements should not be printed directly on the cover or spine." There's more at stake for magazines that breach this guideline than just ASME's disapproval; the organization could also shut violating issues out of its annual National Magazine Awards.

Read more about Time Inc.'s new cover ads here.

Also Notable

"Editing While Female"

In a recent Politico.com piece, Susan B. Glasser examines the plight of women in top newspaper editorial positions. She draws upon the meteoric rises and falls of executive editor Jill Abramson of the New York Times and editor-in-chief Natalie Nougayrède of Le Monde to make sense of her own experiences as former national news editor of the Washington Post and current editor of POLITICO magazine. Read the full article here.

A Bright Future for Print Food Magazines?

What role do food magazines play in an age when everyone fancies themselves food critics? Jessica Suss of American Journalism Review recently discussed the future of print food titles with editors, who believe that food magazines haven't lost their relevance in today's Yelping, "foodstagramming" world. Among those things smartphone food critics can't offer: professional food photography, the credibility of a long-standing print brand, and the "cookbook" experience of a monthly food magazine. Read more here.

Yahoo Movies Magazine

On May 15, Yahoo launched a new digital magazine, Yahoo Movies. The site, which will not be developed into a tablet/smartphone app, uses the same design as other Yahoo magazines launched in the past year. As with other Yahoo digital magazines, Yahoo Movies will feature native advertising content in addition to its trailers, movie news, and live streams. Read more here.

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