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Unraveling Magazine-Making Essentials

Posted on Monday, March 31, 2014 at 10:42 AM

Tips on simplifying your content for today's audience.

By Jan V. White

All of us professional wordsmiths and visualizers are justifiably proud of what we do. Some of us even get awards. I submit with deepest respect that that is all very nice, but it is a side issue. Good writing is great, but so what? Exciting graphics is fun, but so what? We aren't dream factories!

The sad reality is that our product only exists to be sold. To be sold it must be wanted. No, not just wanted, but needed. Therefore, we must turn around our thinking. We have to stop fashioning our product as though it were a wonderful object that we present to them, hoping it'll find favor. Instead, we must know our investors' purposes and needs so that we can cobble a product that they deem worth buying. What we call "value" and think to be terrific, they judge as "return on investment." Furthermore, it had better jump out at you and bite you on the nose, or else!

A magazine is a complicated product. If they don't notice their ROI at first glance, they'll skip it. We must think always about them, never only just about us. Alas and welladay, the good old pre-TV days when Time, Life, Look, and SatEvePost were indispensable artforms are long gone! (Yes, they were considered to be artforms.) Now we have to be drably utilitarian. Be realistic and SIMPLIFY!

The Clearer and Faster, the Better

--Know the reason-for-publishing (for them, not for you).
--In display, promise (tout) personal benefit.
--Get on with it. Cut verbose introductions, backgrounds, duplications.
--Less is more: when in doubt, leave it out.
--Scrap wordy words, crop pix to expose the point.

The Function of Editing Is to Edit

--Remember that it's for them, so think speed, directness, immediacy, clarity.
--Don't waste space on anything that is not essential.
--Ask "So what?" in heads. If "So nothing," redefine point of the piece.
--You can't write too short!
--Explain vividly. Fuse, blend words with images and presentation.

Use Techniques That Work

--Interpret and expose first-glance value of the message clearly.
--Don't lay out to impress or startle, but tabulate for easy overview.
--Expose value of each element in generous magic white space.
--Construct pages out of bite-size chunks.
--Let the story's content speak for itself. Gussying up isn't needed.

Make the Most of the Object

--Control the whole instead of its bits and pieces.
--Combine stories into a deliberate processional sequence.
--Handle each unit as a single component of a consistent visual whole.
--Display pictures across page-tops and on outsides of pages.
--Align sideways from page to tie pages together.

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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