Writing Better

Photo: Tonie AuerBy Tonie Auer
DFW Chapter President and National Blog Chairwoman

While trying to relax last week, I went to my bookshelf to find something new to read. I wasn't really sure that I wanted to start a new book when I have so many tasks ahead of me to tackle. So, I decided to grab The Book on Writing by Paula LaRocque. It really is a good read and you can do it a chapter and a time and still benefit from it.

The DFW Chapter was fortunate enough to have LaRocque speak at one of our meetings last fall. The author, writing coach and former Dallas Morning News editor had some great tips (many of which are in her book). I have already found myself paying more attention to her advice

Here are some of the highlights listed from LaRocque's presentation:
  • Make your text clear. Readers don't want to study and dissect the sentence to understand it.

  • Ditch your concept of formal writing. Write as you speak, when you speak well.

  • The unsellable is unreadable. Read your work aloud and note the language and flow. Does it read well? Simple subject, verb, object sentences are understandable. She also cautioned against long sentences. Using active voice was another tip.

  • Another common mistake is trying to impress instead of communicate.

  • If telling a story, begin as you would tell the story to a friend.

  • Use a road map with a beginning, middle and end. Write quickly without interruptions. If you edit as you write, you lose the spontaneity and your good ideas.

  • Write your piece before you have to write it. She admonished (gently) journalists as procrastinators and characterized writing best on deadline as an excuse. *I think I resemble this remark.*

  • She recommended building time into your assignment to write and then leave the story alone. Then, return to it with your editor's hat on.

  • Edit first for wordiness, which gets in the way. Once you make it tighter, then read it aloud and send it to the editor after that.

  • Keep sentences short. Have an average sentence length of 25 words or less and have a variety of lengths for your sentences.

  • Keep one idea per sentence.

  • Try not to back-end your sentences. Avoid using words like "amid" at the beginning of a sentence, for example.

  • Change long difficult words to simple ones with the same meaning.

  • Prune your sentences and try to use single syllable words, when possible.

  • Make sure your words are accurate. The word is lectern, not podium; check to see if you should use gauntlet or gantlet; comprise of is wrong - compose of is right.

  • Avoid redundancy: sum total, potential promise, blue in color, tall in height.

  • Watch vague qualifiers: totally, really, very, quite, somewhat, rather.
Probably one of the best lines from LaRocque's book - from where I'm at right now in reading it - is her admonition of "we must stop trying to impress and try instead to communicate." I like that. There have been many times when I've had to re-read a passage because someone has tried to sound smarter than the rest of us. All it does is convolute the true meaning of the sentence in an effort to make something sound important.

Good stuff. I recommend it to improve your writing.

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International Young Leaders Scholarships Announced

By Paul J. Heney
Past ASBPE National President

One of the most important programs that ASBPE conducts is the Young Leaders Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded to five deserving b2b editors, 30 or younger, each year. The winners attend the annual ASBPE Editorial Conference, this year’s being in Kansas City from July 23-25. The scholarship covers their conference registration and hotel … all their company has to pay for is their transportation costs to the event.

In 2006, I proposed that ASBPE and TABPI join up to also extend the YLS program overseas. Since then, we have chosen an additional two non-U.S.-based editors to join the conference each year. The only difference here is that TABPI also reimburses the winners up to $500 toward the cost of their airfare. That only seems right, since (for example) a Chicago to Kansas City ticket is vastly cheaper than a London-Kansas City ticket!

In the first two years, editors from South Africa, France, Canada and The Netherlands have attended the ASBPE Editorial Conference, bringing an interesting mix to the already diverse crowd.

I’m proud to tell you a little about the 2008 winners, who were just selected this month.

From the United Kingdom, we’re pleased to welcome Andy Hoskins. Andy is deputy editor for bmi Publications' The Business Travel Magazine, a publication voted best in its field at the recent Business Travel Journalism Awards. He’s been with bmi since 2004. Andy holds a BA in geography and is a keen sportsman and traveler. He plays regularly for a local soccer team, enjoys cycling and plans to run his first marathon in Edinburgh, Scotland, next month.

And from South Africa, we welcome Kate Rau. Kate was recently named editor for SALESGURU magazine, the country’s only publication focused purely on selling. She is looking forward to growing the quality of the magazine and website, as well as increasing national exposure of the brand. Kate formerly worked for Push Media and Media 3S / Shorten Publications. She has a BA in journalism, and enjoys gardening, yoga, reading and walking her boxer.

For more details, please see www.tabpi.org/scholarship.htm

Paul J. Heney is senior editor of Hydraulics & Pneumatics.

Editor's Note: ASBPE will announce the U.S.-based winners of the Young Leaders Scholarship soon.

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Azbees Are a Different Kind of Prize

By Roy Harris
Past President ASBPE National

Awards: Don't win 'em, and you drive your management crazy. Win 'em—or, heaven forbid, win too many! —and you open yourself to charges that you're somehow in bed with the prize-judging system.

Matt Kinsman suggests in his April Folio: magazine Reality Check column, "No Love for the Little Guy" that there's such hanky-panky going on in award programs like the Ellies (National Magazine Awards) and Neals (Jesse H. Neal Awards, from American Business Media.) Some of it may be unintentional, reflecting how Gotham-centric the programs are, for example. Matt tallies 78 New York-based Ellie finalists, with only 50 coming from "elsewhere." Pretty amazing.

And then there's the corollary issue: "Them what has, gets." From a MarketWatch piece delicately titled "Why the National Magazine Awards Are a Crock," Matt quotes Jon Friedman. "Two words neatly sum up the selection of the nominees and winners: popularity contest," Friedman writes. He then further suggests that the industry would be better off if Ellies were determined by "something more relevant, such as a magazines' primary subject."

The Folio: discussion—which, by the way, excluded mention of Folio:'s own Eddies and Ozzies — got me to thinking. Having headed up ASBPE's Azbee Awards of Excellence as national VP for two years, and later overseeing the program as national president until last year, I had to handle plenty of complaints. Most related to second-guessing the judges. But other gripes did indeed target the seeming concentration of awards each year in a relative few publishing-company hands. We take such concerns very seriously.

My own conclusion about the program over the years, however: whatever their shortcomings, the Azbees are dedicated to honoring as wide a variety of work, and worthy publications, as possible.

For one thing, we give so many awards — 20 categories in print editorial alone, and each of those categories divided into large and small magazines — that more publications simply have a chance. (And digital awards, of course, are now our fastest-growing area.) Beyond that, for most award categories we give regional recognition across four regions, making sure that excellent work from around the U.S. gets its day in the sun. And, by the way, we work hard to make sure that our judges represent a diverse variety of large and small publications.

Diverse judging carries through to the Magazine of the Year and Web Publication of the Year, which along with our Stephen Barr Award for feature writing are ASBPE's most prestigious honors.

Are there problems with the Azbees? Of course. Lots of them. And many issues stem from the program's very expansiveness. One frequent complaint: The sheer volume of prizes not only leads the national and regional award programs to drag on (it couldn't be the hosts, of course!), but also tends to make individual Gold, Silver, and Bronze seem less precious.

My personal response to that charge is that the Azbees have managed, by carefully monitoring the process, not to cheapen the honor of a prize. I'm extremely proud of the stories I've written and edited that have won Azbees. (I'm especially proud of one "East Regional Bronze" because it was for a story I had to fight to get in my magazine, and turned out well against all odds.) Besides, the new acrylic plaques are downright neat.

Harris is senior editor at CFO magazine.

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Paul Conley Links-In to Another B2B Ethical Debate

Photo: Steven RollBy Steven Roll
ASBPE President

B2B Blogger Paul Conley questioned the propriety of CIO magazine's decision to embed hyper-text links to the Linked-In profiles of the people and companies that are mentioned in its online stories. In his April 14th blog post, Conley likened the practice to providing in-text ads within the body of stories. Conley noted that he thought the LinkedIn embeds were "a pretty fun piece of functionality" and said that "in truth, such links may be of value to readers."

But Conley said he became concerned after the magazine's rank-and-file editors and reporters told him they hadn't been consulted about the decision. Conley said "by automating the links rather than giving control to editors, CIO has violated industry ethics."

Specifically, Conley noted that CIO's practice violated Paragraph D of ASBPE's Ethics Guidelines, which states as follows:

Whether for editorial or advertising information, hypertext links should be placed at the discretion and approval of editors. Also, advertising and sponsored links should be clearly distinguishable from editorial, and labeled as such, as should clickthrough pages, which may also contain the publication's editorial content, with appropriate disclosures provided. Such disclosure may include a "use with permission" statement or similar language. Contextual links within editorial content should not be sold. If an editor allows a link, it generally should not link to a vendor's Web site, unless it is pertinent to the editorial content or helpful to the reader. [Paragraph D. revised, May 7, 2007, by vote of the Ethics Committee.]

At this point, the exact circumstances surrounding the involvement of the magazine's editorial department seems unsettled. CIO Editor-In-Chief Abbie Lundberg commented under Conley's blog post that she approved the use of the links. She added that the LinkedIn embeds "are not ads but a reader service, so I think that pretty much satisfies the [ASBPE] guidelines." In answer to other commenters on Conley's blog who suggested that CIO or LinkedIn were financially benefiting from the arrangement, Lundberg said "no money is changing hands."

While it appears that the events leading up to CIO's arrangement with LinkedIn may require more study, I think Conley has highlighted an important issue that is likely to become common place in the future. But the ethical considerations are not as clear cut as the case of embedding ads within the text of an article. Do the LinkedIn embeds influence the content of the story? To me, it seems like the embeds are in the content, but not about the content. It sort of reminds me of listening to a sportscaster give the "Bulova watch time" instead of just saying it's 9:30. Bulova got a plug, but the information is useful and the time's still accurate.

Of course, such arrangement would never work in a print format. Perhaps my inability to come up with a better example is further proof that publishing on Internet--with all of its emerging functionalities--is likely to keep providing us with a steady supply of ethical conundrums. Failing to condemn unethical practices would destroy our profession. Being too quick to condemn new practices would likely have a chilling effect on innovation.

I could see how--over time-- the accretion of these type of arrangements could eventually overshadow a publication's content and become highly annoying. Where do you draw the line between what is useful and what is distracting? One B2B colleague who checked out CIO magazine's site told me he thought the LinkedIn embeds makes it hard to get through an article and that he tends to find himself buried in the LinkedIn system whenever he clicks in.

Conley said in his post that CIO can remedy this situation by moving the links outside the story. I think that solution makes sense from an editorial standpoint, but I'm not sure that ignoring it would be an ethical breach.

Notwithstanding my own views on this matter, ASBPE's Ethics Committee will review this situation and we will amend our guidelines accordingly if we see fit.

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You Get What You Pay For

Photo: Katy TomasuloBy Katy Tomasulo
ASBPE Washington, DC Chapter President

I've always been an advocate for paying interns. My belief was reaffirmed recently when my current intern, who's been with us since the fall semester and is an absolute star, asked if she could return next fall. She had considered looking for other internships, but when push came to shove she decided to return to our post because it gave her real work and, she admits, paid her.

I believe it's this combination — real work and at least a small paycheck — that keeps interns enthusiastic.

I've heard people argue that pay shouldn't matter; that interns should just be grateful for the experience. Yes, they should. But when you're a little B2B magazine battling against newsstand pubs for quality applicants, sometimes just the experience isn't enough. Attract them with an hourly wage; keep them by giving them a great, resume-building experience.

Here are some other realities to consider:
  • You get what you pay for: Compensation lends more responsibility. Most will work harder because you're paying them, plain and simple. Without pay, some may feel they have no reason to go the extra mile for you.

  • Pay keeps them coming back: My intern is proof. We couldn't be more thrilled to have her returning — she works hard, is a self-starter, and is just plain nice to have around. Plus, that's four more months I don't have to break in a new intern.

  • Paying them is cheaper than paying a freelancer: If you get a good intern who can write news articles and even features, you've got yourself a bargain. What's $12 an hour for an intern compared to $1 a word for a freelancer?

  • A paid position makes your internship more attractive and competitive to applicants: Which means a bigger, better pool to choose from.
Of course, pay isn't everything. Just as essential is creating an environment that provides real-world experience. All interns know they will get stuck with some admin work. But be sure to balance it out with things to write, small projects to manage, problems to solve. If your interns aren't leaving with clips — print and online — then what have they gained?

We all have too much work to do. Let your interns share the load, reap the benefits, and be paid for their important contributions.

Disagree? Sound off in our comments section.

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Opening of The Newseum

Photo: Tonie AuerBy Tonie Auer
DFW Chapter President

On Friday, the Newseum opens. According to the Newseum, the 250,000-square-foot museum of news offers visitors an experience that blends five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits.

The Newseum is located at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., on America’s Main Street, between the White House and the U.S. Capitol and adjacent to the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. The exterior’s architectural features include a 74-foot-high marble engraving of the First Amendment and an immense front wall of glass through which passers-by can watch the museum fulfill its mission of providing a forum where the media and the public can gain a better understanding of each other.

The Newseum features seven levels of galleries, theaters, retail spaces and visitor services. It offers a unique environment that takes museumgoers behind the scenes to experience how and why news is made.

But not everyone is thrilled with the Newseum. Jack Shafer at Slate called it four-years-in-the-building, seven-story, steel-and-glass monument to journalistic vanity.

Regardless of the various opinions, I will likely plunk down my $20 if/when I'm in DC to see the Newseum. I, personally, think it sounds pretty cool.

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Job Hop How-To: My Move from Print Journalist to Digital Editor

By Erin Erickson
ASBPE Chicago Board Member

Photo: Erin EricksonI recently left a print-centric job at a large B2B publisher.

I was good at my job but it was mostly print; I didn't want to become a journalism dinosaur so I started to find as many digital opportunities as I could. The ASBPE blogs were one outlet; digital freelance projects were another.

When I started walking into editorial meetings I wouldn't just think about the head and deck, I would also imagine the online possibilities.

My boss could see I was really eager to do more in the digital forum but unfortunately my workload and my job responsibilities couldn't sustain that of a digital managing editor.

So I shopped my resume around to different publishers. I wasn't blatant about it and often would send my resume to see if I might be wait-listed for any future digital positions.

And then one of the companies I sent my resume to called me back. After what felt like a dozen interviews later, I bid adieu to my print job and started fresh as a digital editor for a smaller B2B publisher.

My first couple of weeks felt like a hazing ritual deemed appropriate for print-to-digital editors -- Please post this with proper coding and image sourcing, please update the front page of the website, please add this multimedia presentation, etc. I knew how to do it but I was a little rusty with my HTML.

Once I started coming into meetings with online ideas that my bosses and bosses' bosses liked, I felt like I'd made a good decision to move to digital. I even remembered how to code and finally started to feel like I was on top of things again. This transition -- from a print role to a digital role -- has prompted me to think of what skills I've found most beneficial. I'm sharing them with anyone who's considering making a similar move:
  • Be passionate about digital media. Anyone can critique a website; it's how you consider the possibilities for changing it that will help you past muster in the interview chair.

  • Learn enough HTML to be a little dangerous. I'm not talking programming an entire site yourself, but at least know what an "a href=" tag means and what you can do with it.

  • Be a part of at least one social networking site. I've jumped on the bandwagon of Facebook and LinkedIn. I've caught up with old friends on both and have helped some folks get interviews just by clicking "accept" to an invitation. The fact of the matter is if you can't see the relevance in online social networking, then you're not likely to do well in the digital foray.

  • Load up on your digital projects. If you're trying to turn a print job into a digital one but are not sure where to get digital experience, start small on on free projects. Offer to be the blog keeper or webmaster for your hobbyist group's blog or for your local ASBPE chapter.

  • Get an RSS feed for as many web-improvement sites and blogs as you can stand. For me, I subscribe to The Blog Herald, Copyblogger, ProBlogger, just to name a few. While the content is repetitve at times, you'll get a gem of a post on SEO or analytics that will change the way you look at incoming web traffic.

These are just a few of the things I did but many who have walked the road ahead of me can probably offer even better ideas. Please post your suggestions in the comments below.

(This article was previously published on the ASBPE Chicago blog)

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How's Your Design Looking These Days?

By Paul Heney
ASBPE Cleveland Chapter Treasurer

As I recently posted on the ASBPE Cleveland blog, it's critical that b2b editors don't lose sight of how important design is to our magazines. It's an easy thing to forget in these increasingly crazy days of shorter deadlines, publishers shouting about reduced ad revenues, smaller staffs, increased competition, the move to online, etc., etc.

In that spirit, I mention that recently, winners were announced in the first ever TABPI Design Challenge, a competition that was developed to showcase some of the amazing talent that we have in our little world of b2b publications. The Challenge is also important in that it strives to get design professionals in our industry engaged in discussions about best practices.

This first challenge described an art director for the fictional Concrete Times magazine caught in a proverbial crossfire. The magazine's publisher demands that the focus of the April 2008 cover showcase the magazine's 40th anniversary. On the other hand, the editor-in-chief is more concerned with the main feature story, focusing on the first ever "Top 100 Leaders" ranking. That should be the focus. Of course, there is practically no art budget to speak of. So, what do you do? TABPI asked B2B design professionals across the globe to weigh in with their solutions to this dilemma by submitting their own cover proposal.

The results of the Challenge are quite interesting. You can see the overall winner, along with five honorable mentions at Design Challenge. There are also comments from the judges on both the positives and negatives that each solution brings. Take a look at the winners, forward the link to your art director or designer, and start a discussion as to how your team would have handled this issue. Which of the submitted solutions do you feel worked best? Would any of them have worked or not worked specifically for your magazine's audience?

Talking about design with your art director shouldn't be forgotten in these days of increased competition and shorter deadlines. Don't forget how crucial design is to a successful b2b magazine property.

You can also check out the Tabbie Awards to see past winners going back to 2004. That is another fascinating way to start some design discussions with your art director. Browse through the jpegs and pdfs of the winning cover and layout designs, and chances are you'll begin to brew some great ideas of your own.

Heney is president of Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI), based in Cleveland; senior editor with Penton Media’s Hydraulics & Pneumatics; and former national president of ASBPE (1999-2003).

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The Freelance Writing Retirement Plan: Create an Asset

By Joe Pulizzi
Founder and Chief Content Officer for Junta42

The writing-services business is anything but easy. Whether you are freelance writing for a traditional publication or writing for a corporate magazine or website, the pay scale is usually the same: You get money for the time you spend. This works out to X dollars per word, per page, per story or per hour. The formula rarely changes.

Good freelancers can increase their pay scale by doing any of the following:
  • Spend more time getting jobs or work, and thus get more money.

  • Raise the profile of your work and talent and charge more on a per-word, per-page, per-story or per-hour basis. Most freelancers I know don't charge enough (but don't tell them that).

  • Get multiple stories in the same field, which combines research efforts and can limit the amount of time you spend on your stories (which comes out to more money per hours worked).

  • Do quality work faster and with less revision, thus making more money per hour.

  • Add consulting as an additional line of services in addition to your writing skills.
I'm sure there are a few more, but if you notice, each formula above is all about you, the freelancer, working more or less for more or less money. This type of formula sets all writers up for a glass ceiling, where ultimately it becomes extremely difficult to create a higher standard of living.

I'm sure you've heard the idea of making money while you sleep a thousand times. Well, if you aren't trying to get there, you need to hear it a thousand more times. Look, you have clients and talent and work hard for your money ... congratulations. What I would suggest is for you, the freelance writer, to start thinking about your retirement plan. How can you start to do things now that will enable you to work less and make more money for your talents in the future?

The Freelance Writing Retirement Plan is all about creating an asset -- creating something that some person or business will see as valuable outside of just yourself and your reputation. Here are some ideas on how to get you there. (Note: The obvious is to create a writing business and start farming our writing work, and possibly hiring writers to work for you. This is the most natural extension of freelance writing. I don't include this in the recommendations below because, almost exclusively, writers cannot separate themselves from the business. This means you could never leave the business because you have to always stay involved with clients or projects. The examples below, at some point, could survive without you in the business.)
  • Choose a niche topic and begin creating content. Ultimately, you could start by creating a blog. This will get you traffic and build your expertise in that industry (it will also get you additional writing work). The ultimate goal will be to morph your blog into a true media resource site. Once that happens, you'll start to build an asset outside your own name. When choosing a topic, the more niche the better. Search engines like Google work best for niche blogs and media sites that focus on peculiar and odd keywords. Don't worry about making money on the site until you build up enough traffic and readership to generate revenue. A couple of options would then be to sell advertising, sponsorship (the best) or products (see below). This should be started while you are working on your real job, which is freelance writing.
  • Create and distribute content products. Most freelancers have thought of this, but have failed to follow through. Using the same rationale as above (niche topic), begin to build your list of opt-in subscribers to your information. The best way to do this is to begin creating free white papers or eBooks that people have to subscribe to in order to receive. You exchange your white paper for their subscriber information. Once they subscribe, you can then email them a monthly or weekly eZine or eNewsletter. Starting to sell products before you have a list is a pretty tough way to go, so build the list first. Make sure that your giveaways are the absolute best they can be. In my experience, most free products are better than the paid products. If the free products are that good, people will end up paying for your other offerings.
  • Create a service that is unfulfilled in your niche topic/industry. Niche industries start out small and under served. As you begin to become an expert, you'll begin to see opportunities to fill the gap. Consider developing an online service that links buyers and sellers, or offers a very unique service/product that people can't get anywhere else. Once you've created the niche media presence, offering new services will seem more natural. Just think about how Google has launched services such as AdWords, Gmail, Calendar and others as part of its original search service.
There are probably many other directions you can go in, but hopefully this will get you thinking about what can be done. Working for the "man" is a needed service and craft, and if you love it, then do it forever. But most freelancers I talk to are usually searching for something else. That something else for you could be a true asset that can make you money while you sleep or that you can sell to another organization once you generate enough revenue. Now that's what I call the Freelance Writing Retirement Plan. Good luck!

Joe Pulizzi is founder and chief content officer for Junta42, the leading media/bookmarking site for content marketing and custom publishing. Junta42 Match is the industry's only buyer/seller marketplace for custom publishing solutions. Contact Joe at joe[at]junta42.com.

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