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Issue for July 2015

Let's Make Music, Part I

Posted on Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 10:47 PM

Listening to your writing to make it sing on paper.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Longtime readers of this column will recall that every summer I submit to Editors Only a cut-down rundown of a keynote address written for delivery at a weeklong writers' conference sponsored by the folks at Highlights for Children. It's one of my annual highlights, in that the audience is so caring, so enthusiastic to receive what I have to share.

To sustain the tradition, I will do what I've been doing all these years and give you a reduced version of this summer's talk, minus meaningful examples for most every point I strove to make. I titled this lecture "Let's Make Music."


I told the listeners to make personal use of musical terms that offer directions to performers, such as crescendo and diminuendo, accelerando and ritardando, fortissimo and pianissimo, largo and presto, and any others that might assist the writer in creating a more vivid, flexible, and interesting piece of literature: to swell the words (crescendo) or aim for softer, gentler prose (diminuendo); to make the language speed up through briefer sentences and shorter, action-oriented sentences (accelerando) or to hold back and slow down (ritardando); and so forth with other musical terms that fit the occasion.

For a composer, such directives (whether they're in Italian, German, French, English, or what have you) become a guide on how a composition or movement or moment of music should be interpreted and performed. So, why not, I thought, for the writer who is both creator and interpreter in one human package? The writer's self-directives allow for speeding up to give a sense of rush, of greater tension, and for slowing down to allow for reader reaction or relaxation or to provide a change of pace. Again, and so forth.


I asked the audience to think about what it is that causes an appreciation of music and gave myself the answer in ten words, first "MELODY," a good tune one can delight in and go away whistling or humming. Melody, I argued, can come as music and as words, and I urged my listening writers to strive for melody. "Listen to what you've written," I urged them. "Read your copy aloud and listen for the music. Listen for the melodiousness. Can you hear it?"


The second word was "TONE," tone of high quality, not "a screechy soprano or violin," not "a bellowing tenor or bleating trombone." A writer's use of the English language, I said, "should resist ugliness of sound, except -- of course -- when you are dealing with topics that are ugly. Choose a tone or tones that are in line with what you are writing about, go with a style that fits the situation, but don't forget appealing tone, appealing sound wherever, whenever possible. Listen for it."


My third word was "RHYTHM." "Music is made for rhythm, and rhythm was created by our Maker for music. So, too, rhythm is a necessity in writing." I quoted Fowler's Modern English Usage, which tells us it is important to differentiate between "what reads well and what reads tamely, haltingly, jerkingly, topsidedly, topheavily, or otherwise badly; the first is the rhythmical, the other the rhythmless."


I gave a few musical samples along the way as well as at least one piece of writing for each of my musical words, the next of which was "ORCHESTRATION," how the composer has put his or her material together, harmoniously or chromatically or even dissonantly, the way musical technique and musical content come together, the suitable packaging of sounds, creating the clothes, the finery in which the total musical product is to be displayed.

That's a must in writing, too, I said. "When the words and the content come together, blend, merge, when the verbalization honestly reflects manner and meaning, when the how elevates the what and the what resides comfortably within the how, that to me is literary orchestration, the happy marriage of technique and content, not merely a partnership but an at-oneness."


I spoke of "PASSION" next and quoted Giuseppe Verdi. "I adore art," he said. "When I am alone with my notes, my heart pounds and the tears stream from my eyes, and my emotion and my joys are too much to bear." I asked the conference folks whether or not they had such passion in their hearts and followed with a quote from Henry David Thoreau: "Write while the heat is in you.... The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience."


"IMAGINATION," I said, is another necessary part of the musical word list. "Don't be afraid to use it. Don't be sparing. Make full use of your imagination, the place from which all ideas flow."

To Be Continued

I had more words to pass along to my students of the week: "VOICE," "SUBSTANCE," "SURPRISE," and "HONESTY." I'll cover them next month, along with another brief list I consider critically important to make use of as writer and/or editor. We will continue to "make music."

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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Grooming a Top Editor

Posted on Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 10:44 PM

Management strategies to bring out the best in your editorial team.

By Michelle Kocay

We asked some editors what kind of person they would want if they had to hire their own replacement. What follows is a distillation of their recommendations.

In general, the qualities a candidate would definitely have to possess include:

--Knowledge or experience in the publication's subject area.

--Ability to work well with other people and give them direction.

--Strong editorial skills.

--The drive to keep learning all one can about the business, the market, the readership, and obviously the publication's focus.

Subject Knowledge

You can't expect to run a publication if you don't have enough knowledge of your subject. Can you imagine trying to write about drag racing without ever going to the track? Of course not!

The editor of a sports publication stressed to me, "You have to know the content of the publication and the background of the sport or area of interest. Take time to do your homework. Imagine how it would be to interview a major figure or athlete in your field and have no idea why they were so important. It pays to do the required research."

Experience helps an editor to be an authority on the subject. It also gives some personal credibility that appeals to the readers. Would you listen to somebody's advice on relief of chronic pain through acupuncture if she had never even tried it? Probably not. The editor needs to be a specialist to a certain degree in his field and to provide his readers with accurate information they can rely on. The more you know about something, the easier it is to win your readers' trust and to keep them interested in what your publication has to offer.

Offering Inspiration

In order to produce a top-notch publication, an editor needs to work well with the editorial staff and give them the respect they deserve. Many times others look to the editor for guidance, inspiration, and encouragement. An editor told me, "I would never give anyone an assignment that I wouldn't do myself."

This approach keeps members of the staff feeling like they are a valuable part of the magazine. It is a good idea to listen to the suggestions and comments each member of the editorial staff offers and then take these ideas into consideration to promote an atmosphere of teamwork and the focus on a common goal: a strong publication.

It would be very difficult to get the staff involved and interested in the publication if the editor didn't take the time to share his ideas and perhaps inspire others to get energized about their own work.

The editor has a responsibility to draw out the best work possible from the employees and to see that it is shaped in a manner that suits the aims of the publication.

The editors we talked to seemed to share a common point: an editor must develop a good relationship with the members of the staff and behave in a manner befitting the position. The editorial staff looks to the editor for cues on how to conduct themselves, especially when working with others involved in the publication.

Maximizing Abilities

Obviously, any publication is looking for individuals with strong editorial skills. All the editors we spoke to agree that a publication maintains its credibility by reporting accurate facts and figures. Checking and re-checking sources and information are important as well. A good editor also knows how to make the material he has received a perfect fit for its purpose. As one editor put it, "Know what a good story is for the readers and be able to have a strong editing hand. Know when stories need to be cut and rewritten and reshaped."

A good editor needs to be the driving force behind any strong publication and have the ability to move the magazine in a direction that will help its readership grow. You need to be the first to recognize a new "hot" topic or movement and get your writers working on it. You can be sure your competition is trying to do the same thing. An editor also has to be willing to explore whatever new technology is available. One has to keep her eyes open for other materials and ideas that may be useful to the publication as a whole.

An editor should stay energized and make a habit of constantly trying to learn and educate himself in all he does. It can only help the publication. As one editor put it, "Everyone has their own fields of interest and curiosity and things they are excited about. Find what an editor or writer is passionate about and then encourage him or her to go out and get away from the desk, away from the computer, and go into the world and find where that thing they are passionate about is happening. I think that is the point where the editor begins to feel the pulse of that thing. Find a writer to work on that. Steer your staff toward it and turn them loose."

Takeaway Points

Top editors have offered many helpful tips for what skills are necessary for an editor-in-chief. It's always a good idea to nurture these abilities among your staff. After all, one of them may someday step into your position!

Here are some things to focus on:

1. Always knowing the content of the publication and being well versed in its subject matter.

2. Being willing to guide and direct staff members without forcing one's own suggestions on them.

3. Listening to the input from staff and giving them the respect they deserve.

4. Knowing what readers want and what interests them most.

5. Trying to keep learning all you can and keeping your eyes and ears open for anything new that can be helpful.

6. Checking facts -- being accurate and accountable.

7. Always improving on what you have and never assuming you know it all.

Michelle Kocay is a former managing editor of Editors Only who currently teaches developmental English to undergraduate students.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 10:43 PM

Assessing the readability of an excerpt from WashingtonPost.com.

In this issue, we'll analyze the Fog Index of a sample from a July 28 WashingtonPost.com article ("Microsoft Makes Amends for Past Mistakes with Windows 10" by Hayley Tsukayama). The sample text follows:

"The answer is yes, pretty much across the board. If you have Windows 8 and a case of buyer's remorse, the answer is definitely yes. If you've got Windows 7 and have been waiting to upgrade to a new system, this is the moment. There are enough new features to tempt you even if you aren't that into the fancy voice-controlled stuff, such as better search features and an overall better browser. If you want to wait a little while to see if new bugs pop up as Microsoft starts rolling the system out, you have some time. In most cases, Microsoft's giving customers a year from Wednesday's launch to take advantage of their free upgrade."

--Word count: 116 words
--Average sentence length: 23 words (9, 16, 19, 28, 44)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 3 percent (3/116 words)
--Fog Index: (23+3)*.4 = 10 (no rounding)

The Fog Index falls well below the 12 threshold. The author does an excellent job of controlling sentence length. She also avoids muddying the text with dense language that can do real damage to an article's Fog-Gunning score.

We chose to feature this excerpt for two reasons: First, it is a great specimen of fairly fog-free writing. Second, and perhaps more important, a single punctuation change could improve the Fog Index by a few more points. Watch what happens when we change the en dash in the last sentence to a period:

--Word count: 116 words
--Average sentence length: 19 words (9, 16, 19, 28, 26, 18)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 3 percent (3/116 words)
--Fog Index: (19+3)*.4 = 8 (no rounding)

That's right. One punctuation swap, with no other edits to the text, cut the fog by two points. With that simple change, we've ended up with one of the lowest Fog-Gunning scores we've ever achieved in this column.

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Print Magazines as Luxury Items?

Posted on Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 10:42 PM

In the news: Michael Brunt of Foliomag.com explores print magazines' possible future as a luxury item.

Could print magazines go the way of vinyl? In asking that, we don't mean to suggest that print is becoming obsolete. To the contrary, vinyl records have seen a recent resurgence as highly coveted luxury items for die-hard music fans. Earlier this month, Michael Brunt discussed this very concept in a Foliomag.com piece entitled "Unpacking Print's Luxurious Future." In it, he emphasizes that print is here to stay and that it "will still be a huge component of circulation, and at some point there will be a leveling point where the digital migration slows almost to a stop." However, he asserts, print readership will narrow to a core group of a readers and print magazines themselves will become "affordable luxury items." Read his complete analysis here.

Also Notable

Top Lifestyle Magazines on Social Media

Last week, MarketWatch.com published findings from a recent Engagement Labs, which ranked the most successful lifestyle magazines on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The top men's titles were Sports Illustrated, Complex, and SLAM; the top women's titles were Cosmopolitan and Us Weekly. Read the complete article, contributed to MarketWatch by Engagement Labs itself, here.

Leaders in Digital Audience Growth

Time Inc. and Condé Nast experienced the highest digital readership growth in the first half of 2015, reports the New York Post this week. Condé Nast grew 20 percent during that period, and Time Inc. grew up 14 percent. Other major publishers also fared well, including Hearst with 8.1 percent digital audience growth and Meredith with 6.5 percent growth. Read the complete New York Post roundup here.

Pearson PLC Shifts Focus to Education

This week, two developments have put publisher Pearson PLC in the media spotlight. The first development: the publisher has sold most of its FT Group, which includes major financial newspaper The Financial Times, to Nikkei Inc. of Japan. The second development: the company reportedly plans to sells its stake in business magazine The Economist. This marks a decisive shift away from business publishing as the company focuses on its education properties. Read more here.

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