Surprise

Posted on Saturday, September 29, 2018 at 12:01 AM

Provide surprise and capture reader interest!

By Peter P. Jacobi

Last month, in concision, I took you through part one of a keynote address I gave at a master class for adult writers sponsored by the Highlights Foundation in July. As I told you, I titled the talk "I Didn't Expect That, and It Is Wonderful."

The subject was the element of surprise.

That didn't necessarily mean, I explained, dealing out suspense or spooking the readers, shocking or freaking them out, although those approaches certainly can serve to surprise. I quoted writer Anne Bernays. "Nice writing," she has argued, "isn't enough. It isn't enough to have smooth and pretty language. You have to surprise the reader frequently; you can't just be nice all the time. Provoke the reader. Astonish the reader. Writing that has no surprise is as bland as oatmeal."

I started you on a list of ways we, as writers and editors, can provide surprise and, thereby, hold reader interest. I took you through the power of awarding the reader with striking prose and with amazement and with details, each a "splendored" way to keep readers with you. I now move on.

Cleverness

Cleverness is another way, meaning a unique or unexpected or striking way of thinking. The remarkable Bill Bryson, who can make the most complex subject seem simple and can see the humor in most anything including his own inadequacies, uses the clever.

His essay in I'm A Stranger Here Myself, titled "Life's Mysteries," begins with an admission. "I don't understand most things. I really don't. I am full of admiration for people who can talk knowledgeably about household wiring or torque ratios on their car engines, but that's not me, I'm afraid. I remember years ago, after buying my first car, being asked how big the engine was. 'Oh, I don't know,' I said, quite sincerely. 'About this big, I suppose,' and I spread my arms to the appropriate dimensions."

He lists the subject matters he doesn't understand. "I don't know what an enzyme is, or an electron or proton or quark. Don't have the faintest idea. I don't even know my own body. I couldn't begin to tell you what my spleen does or where you look to find it. I wouldn't know my own endocrine glands if they reached out and goosed me."

Bryson poses questions for which he seeks answers: "What did insects do before there were electric lights?" "How do aquarium fish get so much energy out of a few little flakes of food? And what are those flakes made out of, precisely? And how did anyone ever determine that that is what they want to eat?" "Is it actually possible that there are people who can eat I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and not believe it's not butter?" You get the idea. Bill Bryson brings cleverness to the table and gains access to a reader's mind and heart.

Approach

Approach is another means of surprising: designing your story in unexpected fashion. Carole Boston Weatherford's biography of jazz legend Billie Holiday does not develop chronologically. It blossoms in independent poems. Here is one about Holiday's childhood days titled "You Ain't Gonna Bother Me No More." To save space, I'll pass it along to you in continuing rather than separate lines.

"I could keep up with the boys shooting marbles and dice, but not catching bugs. Crawly things gave me the creeps, and all the boys knew it. Once, after a ballgame, I was sitting on the curb and a sore loser swung a rat by the tail right in my face. I begged him to stop, but he just grinned. Then that rat brushed my cheek. I grabbed a baseball bat and sent that boy to the hospital." Such can grab a reader.

Intensity

Intensity made my list of surprise producers. Elie Wiesel's memoir Night, detailing memories of Auschwitz, where his mother and little sister had already died by furnace, includes the following passage. Here I'll ignore paragraphing to save space:

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my father forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never." Intensity!

There is still more to surprise than the foregoing. I'll surprise you with it in the next issue.

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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Advertising Sales and the Editor, Part II

Posted on Saturday, September 29, 2018 at 12:01 AM

There's more than one way to look at the matter.

By William Dunkerley

Very insightful commentary came from a recent EO anecdotal survey. It was on the separation between editorial and advertising.

Last month Donald Tepper (PT in Motion) and Joanne Erickson (Provider) kicked off the discussion of this long-running concern. They offered somewhat divergent perspectives to frame the debate.

Now many other survey respondents have chimed in on the matter. They provide thought-provoking takes on this very important subject.

The Survey Respondents:

--Deborah Wuehler, senior editor and director of production, The Old Schoolhouse magazine: "As senior editor I am concerned with not only the production side of each issue, but with the overall company's growth. Part of that is being concerned with meeting overhead of each production cycle. Therefore, helping the sales team and accommodating the sales team's requests whenever possible is part of the overall picture.

"I do not personally participate in selling ads, but I communicate with the ad sales team on a regular basis. That said, I do build relationships with authors and companies to help facilitate those sales whenever possible.

"I also make sure that ad sales are appropriate to our audience and have created vetting guidelines for that purpose."

--Linda Longo, editorial director, Bravo Business Media: "Personally, I hate spending my time helping the sales department do their jobs (selling ads) by devoting a portion of my time writing "sponsored stories" (which the salespeople get commission on, but editors do not) that are not necessarily important to our readership but done to make advertisers happy.

"We have monthly meetings with the sales department where we have to divulge the contacts for our editorial feature stories so that the sales department can call up anyone interviewed and ask for advertising support."

--Leslie Young, editor-at-large, Massage & Bodywork magazine: "We are in the business of association publishing, so we are creating and sustaining community. Ads in our magazine serve our membership base, so I'm fine with functioning in a publisher's role and supporting our advertising sales team.

"Here at Massage & Bodywork, the editor-in-chief actually supervises the advertising team. The editor's role is to support their efforts, but hold the line and ensure that advertising doesn't influence editorial in any way. The advertising team understands that blending advertising and editorial can lead to a loss of our publication's credibility. We do have an advertorial option, but it's not frequently exercised."

--Rick Pullen, editor-in-chief, Leader's Edge magazine: "I have traveled a lot with my editorial team. I'm used to opening doors for salespeople since there are a lot of people who will open the door to the editor but not salespeople. I couldn't sell an ad if my life depended on it, but I can sell my magazine simply because I believe in it. I talk to my salespeople at least weekly, if not more often, since ad sales determines the size of the book and various departments."

--Deborah Lockridge, editor-in-chief, Heavy Duty Trucking: "We don't personally participate in selling, but may help educate advertisers or potential advertisers about the market, our editorial, our readers, trends, etc. Our editorial calendar is designed as a balance between the topics that we know readers want, while making sure we offer coverage of major topic areas that advertisers may be interested in appearing in the same issue. Communicating with the sales team is more often about things like educating them on these same types of things, and whether a client may have some good information for an article we're working on, questions about possible webinar topics that a client might want to sponsor, that type of thing."

--C. G. Masi, retired editor: "Editors and reporters can and should support sales efforts. They can accompany ad salespersons on meetings with actual and potential advertisers to discuss the publication's editorial focus, position in the industry, and trends they expect to cover in the future. They can also discuss how readers likely view products and services like those the client is likely to advertise. It should be made clear, however, that a salesperson should never attempt to close an ad deal in the presence of an editor.

"As chief editor, I communicated on an almost daily basis with salespeople about likely prospects and how they might be approached. Chief editors can also help guide salespeople on honing their pitches.

"Content editors and reporters, however, should only consult with salespeople when looking for leads to interesting stories. Salespeople can also sometimes be helpful in providing introductions to individuals who develop technical innovations. It must be remembered, however, that ad salespeople talk to marketing people, who are seldom the engineers and managers making technical innovations, who are the people reporters need to speak to."

--James G. Hill, senior news director, Detroit Free Press: "I feel like it is necessary for the editorial department to participate in all facets of securing a solid financial footing for the newsroom -- as long as ad sales don't influence editorial content.

"Our newsroom leaders have a weekly meeting with staffers in our sales, marketing, promotion, and subscription departments to discuss major projects, significant enterprise, and special events coverage that may present opportunities for ad or subscription sales to tie in to the editorial content."

--Dave Zoia, editorial director, WardsAuto: "We're willing to make ourselves available to discuss editorial philosophy, resources, current and upcoming stories, the news of the industry, etc., but editors do not get involved in discussions directly about specific buys or sales programs in general.

"In addition to traditional display ad sales we sell subscriptions to our products, one-off special reports, and sponsorships to conferences and exhibitions. Taking all this together, we work with sales teams regularly (certainly weekly) to make sure they have the background materials they need regarding the content we're planning in order to facilitate sales. But it doesn't go beyond that (in terms of your first question) very often."

--Karen Menehan, editor-in-chief, Massage magazine: "I edit a trade publication for healthcare professionals. I am frequently called upon to help build relationships with advertisers or potential advertisers. I view this as a necessary component of my job so that the magazine thrives, our editors have jobs, and we are able to present objective, high-quality journalism alongside softer pieces that support our advertisers (product rounds-ups and such).

"I am in contact with our sales team almost daily, about product- or vendor-related content, potential new advertisers, and special projects such as sponsored editorial."

--Keith A. Tosolt, managing editor, Concrete International: "Although the lines can get blurred, there has to be separation between editorial and advertising. I don't participate in ad sales, to maintain that objectivity

"The ad sales team operates fairly independently from editorial. I pass along possible leads about every couple of months."

--Jef White, executive editor, The Shop magazine: "I direct any sales inquiries or potential leads to our sales executives for follow-up. I am always happy to discuss our editorial policies and opportunities with advertisers, with the clear understanding that the two departments operate independently. As a trade publication, we have routine editorial interactions with current and potential advertisers. Most everyone we speak with fully supports an objective, independent editorial effort as vital to the long-term health of the publication, and therefore as a vehicle for their marketing efforts."

--Arnie Weissmann, editor-in-chief, Travel Weekly: "I'm never asked to participate in ad sales efforts. I'll sometimes send a note if I see an opportunity for them. I communicate with them regularly about how we are doing generally speaking, but we don't talk about specific ad efforts."

--Curt Harler, freelancer: "I recall being in the required advertising course for news/editing students at Penn State and having the professor say, 'We don't put ads in your newspaper. You put news in our ads-paper.' I cringed at the time. But in 40 years as a journalist, the truth of what he said has been brought back to me time and again. In this country, you can't fight money."

--Name withheld by request: "Candidly, I think talking about 'advertising' is a little out of date. Advertisers have fled print and, in terms of digital, look to Google and Facebook. As an editor I see our revenue opportunities in paid subscriptions and native content.

"The paid subscription route will take some time. For far too long -- and still today -- we give our content away for free. The music industry got smart about this business model some time ago. Still, we are starting to gate content. A good start.

"The greater opportunity lies in native content. Here I believe editors have a strong role. We can guide companies who are baffled why we 'won't just post' their articles to our paid native content options. I for one am happy to do just that!"

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Saturday, September 29, 2018 at 12:01 AM

Assessing the readability of a TheDailyBeast.com excerpt.

This month, we calculate the Fog index of sample text from a September 6 TheDailyBeast.com piece ("Almost Half of Young Facebook Users Deleted the App This Year, New Survey Finds" by Kelly Weill). Here's the excerpt:

"A new survey by the Pew Research Center found that most adults surveyed had curbed their Facebook use or adjusted their privacy settings in the past year. The survey followed revelations that political consulting company Cambridge Analytica had scraped the personal information of approximately 87 million Facebook users for use in targeted advertising. Of the 4,594 Pew survey respondents, young adults were the most likely to unplug from platform, with 44 percent of Facebook users ages 18 to 29 saying they'd deleted the app from their phone, although the survey did not ask whether respondents had deleted their accounts, too."

Word count: 100 words
Average sentence length: 33 words (27, 26, 47)
Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (10/100 words)
Fog Index: (33+10) *.4 = 17 (17.2, no rounding)

We're left with a pretty high Fog score. Sentence length is a key factor here; there are just three sentences in the sample. The last sentence comprises nearly half the total word count. Let's get to work cutting at least 6 points from the standing Fog index.

"A new survey by the Pew Research Center found that most adults surveyed had curbed their Facebook use or adjusted their privacy settings in the past year. The survey followed revelations that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had scraped the personal data of roughly 87 million Facebook users for use in targeted ads. Of the 4,594 Pew survey respondents, young adults were the most likely to unplug from platform. Forty-four percent of Facebook users ages 18 to 29 said they'd deleted the app from their phone. But the survey did not ask whether respondents had deleted their accounts, too."

Word count: 99 words
Average sentence length: 20 words (27, 26, 16, 17, 13)
Words with 3+ syllables: 6 percent (6/99 words)
Fog Index: (20+6) *.4 = 10 (10.4, no rounding)

Our main goal was to split up the last sentence into smaller parts. We were able to turn that one sentence into three. What's more, we cut the percentage of longer words from 10 percent to 6 percent, nearly by half. Overall, these changes cut the Fog by 7 points.

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Print Magazines Pay Off for Membership Models

Posted on Saturday, September 29, 2018 at 12:01 AM

In the news: For companies geared toward memberships, print magazines can be a lucrative membership perk.

For membership-oriented companies such as Costco, AAA, and AARP, a print magazine can function as a membership perk that keeps people renewing their membership every year. Many of these subscribers prefer the tangible print product to the idea of a digital edition. Michael Winkleman of Foliomag.com writes, "[Costco] publisher Sandy Torrey notes that only 750,000 members -- a small slice of the total readership -- have moved in that direction. Instead, she says, the company routinely gets mail from members begging them to keep the print magazine going."

One cannot understate the popularity of these print editions. Writes Winkleman: "Last fall, for the first time ever, AARP pushed past People magazine as the country's most-read magazine, according to GfK MRI. This past spring, the magazine expanded that lead, reaching an estimated 38.6 million readers per issue."

Read more here.

Also Notable

New York Post Launching Paid Memberships

The New York Post is experimenting with membership programs to drive revenue. Max Willens of Digiday.com writes, "The Post intends to orient them around extra services or experiences targeted at fans of its sports coverage, or its popular gossip news sub-brand Page Six.... The Post decided to focus on services rather than content after extensive user testing and interviews, which led [chief digital officer Remy] Stern to conclude that its audience was not going to pay for The Post's reporting and coverage." For now, the plan is to launch its first membership program early next year. Read more here.

Time Magazine Purchased for $190 Million

Last week, billionaires Marc and Lynne Benioff purchased Time magazine for $190 million. Dominic Rushe of TheGuardian.com raises key questions about the acquisition: "Is there really space for a weekly news magazine in an era where the world carries all the news it needs -- with constantly pinging updates -- on its phone? And is it really a good thing that tech's billionaires are the new press barons?" Samir "Mr. Magazine" Husni weighs in on these questions, noting that Time's impressive circulation numbers (roughly two million) present a huge advantage. But the purchase raises other question about the dangers of billionaires owning key news brands. Read more here.

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