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Issue for July 2009

Your Good Word

Posted on Friday, July 31, 2009 at 2:53 PM

Here's some magazine capital that even the slumping economy can't destroy. Now is the time to put it to good use.

By John Johanek

There are just a few really "key" pages for any magazine -- pages that deserve extra design scrutiny before they go into print. There's the cover, which should serve as a poster for the magazine -- grabbing attention on the newsstand, shouting its arrival from the stack of incoming mail, or flagging its presence on a coffee table. There's the Table of Contents, which needs to work like an advertisement for the issue (i.e., selling the content) and function equally well as a roadmap that quickly directs readers to favorite departments or major features. And, for some magazines, the closing page is crucial to ensure an issue ends on a strong note or to hit readers with an opening bang if they are the sort that scan an issue from back to front.

Often overlooked is one other important magazine component -- the editorial page. Some magazines don't even have one. Others treat their editor and/or publisher comment like a filler box, relegating that material to a page shared with fractional ads or the masthead (staff listing), or squeezed into a corner of the Table of Contents page.

If that sounds like your magazine, wake up. A functional editorial page may be your magazine's best sales tool -- something every magazine can always use more of, especially in this economy. Even if you have a page devoted to your editor's comment or publisher's note, there are ways to make it work harder.

Establish Rapport

If you don't already have a page that's the voice of the magazine, create one. Whether it's a message from the editor or a note from the publisher, your publication needs to connect with readers on a personal level. One client I worked with never had an editorial page despite repeated suggestions to do so. When it launched, it was the first magazine in its niche. Today it's the only family-owned magazine covering a now-popular, crowded market. The family aspect has become one of their biggest selling points -- but it's barely mentioned in the magazine. Instead, a portion of their marketing efforts and direct mail is devoted to promoting their unique family ties -- the price of never establishing an editorial forum to do so in the magazine itself. Having its readers know that the magazine's producers are not merely story shufflers but rather active participants likely has influence when it comes time to renew, purchase gift subscriptions, or buy an ancillary product from the company. Being able to cultivate that rapport with readers through an editorial each issue is a better and more cost-effective way to reach them.

Quantify Content

All good magazines go to great lengths to create balanced, authoritative, well-researched issues. A proper editorial page often highlights the scope of the issue and explains why the stories were selected and what qualifies specific authors that were commissioned to produce key stories (especially if the magazine doesn't have a contributor's page). This is an especially strong selling point worth informing readers about if you've landed a highly credentialed author, compiled a special selection of stories on a hot topic, or have in some way brought together content that is beyond what your competitors will likely deliver this month. This is the time to toot your horn, and an editorial is the place to toot it.

You ARE Your Brand

In my first year in publishing I read an item in a respected publishing trade magazine suggesting that magazines were better served if their regular columnists never included their head shot with their story. The logic was that a reader's imagination would probably paint a much more flattering picture than reality. That was more than 30 years ago, and I still disagree with that logic. If you're like most editors and publishers, you have opportunities to meet readers at conferences, events, or social gatherings. As a result, editors and publishers often serve as an embodiment of their brand. When readers recognize you, they won't hesitate to engage you in conversation -- about the magazine, the state of your industry, or an article they read. What editor wouldn't want to hear a reader's editorial opinion, or story suggestion, or industry insight? What publisher wouldn't benefit from heightened exposure with potential advertisers and media interests? A few years ago we redesigned a hobby magazine whose editor was considered a leading expert in the field. His editorial each issue had been a less-than-quarter-page box-all type, with a diminutive headline buried at the bottom of a page among fractional ads. In the redesign we gave the editor a prominent space with a photo and full-blown columnist treatment. The new presentation matched the level of respect his expertise warranted. As a result, the editor gained familiarity -- at trade shows and conventions -- and the magazine enjoyed elevated stature as well. When key magazine staff achieve authority status, the magazine benefits. A well-executed editorial in the magazine can be the soapbox you need to develop that recognition.

Head Shots

Several years ago our firm redesigned a large-circulation travel magazine. Although it already devoted nearly a full page to a well-written editorial, the old page design typically sported the same tired "obituary"-type shot of the editor every month. In the makeover we recommended producing a new photo for each issue -- an image that personalized the editor in ways that allowed readers to relate to him better. If his editorial was about rising gas prices, we wanted a shot of him pumping fuel at the local gas station. If the issue had a special focus on family vacations, we preferred a shot of him and his family enjoying the view at the Grand Canyon. The goal: get him out of his suit and tie and show his readers he was one of them.

Relating to your readers is key to gaining their confidence -- a first step in building reader loyalty.


Sign off your editorial column with your signature as well as your typeset name and title. The title establishes credibility and reflects authority and the handwritten signature makes the page more personal and human. If possible, print the signature in blue -- tests have shown that direct mail marketing letters with a blue signature tend to pull better than black. That might seem like a small thing, but in today's economy, every little bit of edge helps.

John Johanek is an international magazine design consultant and founding partner in the design firm of Ayers/Johanek Publication Design, Inc with offices in Zionsville, PA, and Bozeman, MT (visit their website at www.publicationdesign.com). His firm has assisted hundreds of publications, providing design and advice for startups, redesigns, and complete issue art direction and production. Contact him at 406-585-8826 or email him at johanek [at] publicationdesign [dot] com.

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Posted in Design (RSS)

A Dozen Guises

Posted on Friday, July 31, 2009 at 2:53 PM

What or who are we as writers?

By Peter P. Jacobi

Because I believe all of us who write for a livelihood need bucking up now and then, I do not hesitate giving space annually in this column to the substance of what I share with an auditorium full of writers in a keynote address given at the Chautauqua Institution each July.

The talk is meant to inspire and arouse thought, while also reminding the attendees of skills they need to apply in their work and/or responsibilities they have as professional communicators. Just as I feel what I say might help those at the conference, so I feel it might benefit you.

The talks themselves are filled with examples of good writing to prove my points. We haven't the space for all that, but even without the exemplars, the issues brought up should make an impression, or so I always hope.

Taking off this time from the thesis posed by the French philosopher Rene Descartes, "I think; therefore, I am," I moved his argument to: "I write; therefore, I am." Pressing on, I asked my listeners to then consider a next step: If I am, what, or who, am I? Here is some of what I said.

We are someones who feel compelled to "cover pages with tiny sentences," as former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins put it. And why? Perhaps, as Anais Nin noted, "to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection." We do live twice, part of the world we three-dimensionally live in and part of the world we make materialize on paper.

And we are any number of possibilities and probabilities, guises and realities. Permit me to enumerate and expound on a few.

We Are Adventurers

As writer, I am -- you are -- an ADVENTURER. The unknown is our destination or the improbable. We're willing to explore, risk danger, take chances. We've the courage to let our imagination soar at will, to let our dreams guide us, to allow mental roaming and emotional free-wheeling and verbal spontaneity, to welcome experiment. We feel just fine trying what might not work or might turn outrageous. We are prepared to wander daredevilishly into uncharted territory, sensing that there might be victory in the quest.

We Are Comforters

Quite differently and yet just as pointedly, we are -- as writers -- a COMFORTER, someone who can assuage hurt and anguish, who smoothes edges when feelings get ruffled, who balances emotions when they threaten to teeter, who rubs balm on troubled senses, who ameliorates, relieves, relaxes, even heals, who chases away clouds, who transcends the issue or problem at hand and causes the aggrieved out there -- a reader -- to locate assistance or guidance of far broader application and implication than might have been asked or prayed for.

We Are Educators

Your proof of existence comes also as EDUCATOR, as teacher, and here -- as Henry Adams wrote in The Education of Henry Adams -- you have the opportunity to "affect eternity" because a teacher "can never tell where his influence stops." You are an instructor, a way-shower, an outlook changer, a knowledge enhancer, a wisdom shaper.

We Are Enrichers

And what else are you? An ENRICHER. As John Updike once explained: "My first thought about art, as a child, was that the artist [the writer] brings something into the world that didn't exist before, and he does it without destroying something else...That still seems to me its central magic, its core of joy." You enrich, improve, embellish, build, develop, endow, supplement, sweeten. You offer food for thought.

We Are Entertainers

Next, to further prove you exist, as writer: you're an ENTERTAINER, a captivator, beguiler, charmer, distracter, enlivener, amuser, stimulator, the tickler of ribs and heart and funny bone, the engrosser, the cajoler, the enticer.

We Are Friends

And we exist, most fortunately for lots of folks, because, as writers, we are a FRIEND. For someone we do not even know, for someone we are likely never to meet, we become a friend, someone to turn to, a helpmate, a soul-mate, someone to bond with, an at-distance companion. Our words, our expressed thoughts, become a most welcome glue, a connection that suggests to the reader, "I am not alone. That writer seems to know me, to understand me, to have the capacity to fulfill a need or want. In him or her, I have an advocate."

We Are Historians

What are we, as writers? We are also a HISTORIAN: that is chronicler, archivist, and documenter; that is authenticator and commemorator and analyst of the past, narrator and memoirist of bygone times, preserver of what was yesterday for readers of today and tomorrow.

We Are Links

Just as we are historians, looking backward, we, too, are a LINK: of individual to individual and group to group, town to town and nation to nation. We are the reporters, the news purveyors, the substance providers and animators of media, the town-criers, the journalists, the means -- when news is made -- by which it is sent forth and spread. Where one-on-one communication becomes impossible or inadequate, we become the necessary intermediaries. And as such, as link, you must well know, we exist. There'd be gobs of trouble if we didn't.

We Are Magicians

What else are we, as writers who exist? We are a MAGICIAN. Figment or fancy can be our product. If such is our aim, we conjure aura. We enchant. Perhaps the goal is to capture an actual moment or scene with such precision and/or glitter and/or shadowed sensuality that it accrues magic, in which case reality has been so sharpened as to gain something akin to the surreal. Our words may, on the other hand, be meant to bewitch by engendering a world beyond our own, imaginary or interplanetary. Either way, we have the power to do magic with words.

Need more proof about why we exist and what we are?

Maybe not, but I'll give you three more.

We Are Preachers

You're a PREACHER, an exhorter, a sermonizer, an evangelist for causes, a believer who believes a belief needs circulation. As preacher, you might take on the ways of a soap box orator, a shouter, a haranguer, a hell-fire admonisher. Your argument, however, can be made less tumultuously, more indirectly, more subtly, and yet with equal, even possibly greater, force through narrative and descriptive and expository techniques. They can be highly persuasive arguers.

We Are Story Tellers

As an existing writer, you also are a STORY TELLER. Do I need to define that? Readers love stories: as just stories, as explanation, as polemic, as metaphor. Readers love stories, fictional or non-fictional, that thrill or soften the heart or amuse or surprise. Barbara Tuchman advises: "I want the reader to turn the page and keep on turning to the end. This is accomplished only when the narrative moves steadily ahead, not when it comes to a weary standstill, overloaded with every item uncovered in the research."

We Are Visionaries

Which brings me to another proof of our existence: we can be a VISIONARY, dreamer, enthusiast, Don Quixote, as we see our topic in terms probably not contemplated by our readers. We can make them see in a different light, an altered way. Through a chosen perspective, we can make a subject larger or better or more important than common acceptance has previously made it. We can write of it so that the reader will never again think of the subject in quite the same way as before.

Now we should know what we are and how important we can be. Should we then also be reminded of what burdens these faces of the writer place on us? I think so, but about that next month.

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. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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Posted in Writing (RSS)

Overly Redundant

Posted on Friday, July 31, 2009 at 2:52 PM

Trimming the superfluous from your articles.

By Meredith L. Dias

It can be difficult for even the most astute writer to avoid redundancy in an article. Sometimes, we forget that certain words are linked definitionally and, when paired, become redundant.

Here are some common redundancies to avoid in your writing:

Revert back -- As a general rule, avoid using the word "back" after words with the "re-" prefix. (See also: "reflect back", "return back", etc.)
ATM machine -- Be careful when appending acronyms; often times, the extra words are actual components of the acronym. (See also: "HIV virus", "CIA Agency", etc.)
End result -- When framing your sentences, think carefully about the definitions of the words you choose. In cases like this, the two words share a definitional link. (See also: "past history", "crisis situation", etc.)
Completely destroyed -- When introducing adjectives and verbs with an adverb, keep in mind whether or not the adverb is implied in the subsequent word. The word "destroyed" denotes complete ruin; therefore, "completely" is superfluous. (See also: "originally created", etc.)

Look online for some comprehensive lists of redundancies. Odds are, you will find one or two that you have either used in your own writing or allowed to pass into print. Fear not -- you are certainly not the first editor to fall into this trap. By paying closer attention to word meanings and connotations, you will sharpen your eye for these mistakes and avoid them in future issues.

Meredith L. Dias is the research editor of Editors Only.

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Posted in Editing (RSS), Grammar (RSS), Writing (RSS)

Leaving Comments on Our Articles

Posted on Friday, July 31, 2009 at 2:52 PM

Do you have comments or questions about any of our articles? We would love to hear from you. At the end of each article is a link that allows you to post your thoughts. We ask only that you limit your comments to 100 words or fewer. We will attribute all comments to the author/source and reserve the right to edit for style and length.

Please provide a valid email address when submitting your comment. We will not publish anonymous comments unless under extenuating circumstances. We will never publish your email address unless otherwise requested.

We look forward to hearing your input.

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Posted in Technical (RSS)

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