At the start of each production cycle, I find myself staring at the blank canvas. It’s a big canvas. You might have noticed that our 68-page magazine has a huge news hole, with an editorial-to-advertising ratio of roughly 3-1, meaning 75 percent (48 pages) of the magazine’s page count is devoted to news stories and features. You might have noticed each edition is absolutely stuffed with reading material, and beautifully rendered by our exceptionally talented magazine designer, Maria Kozlova.
Where does all that content come from? There is a trio of sources. Obviously, a good portion of it is staff written. We also pay professional freelance writers to produce some of our feature stories. And a large portion comes from industry professionals, like you, who have something to say about assets and investment strategies.
There you have the so-called Trinity of Editorial Content that serves as the news backbone of Real Assets Adviser magazine. I just made up that phrase, lest you think it’s publishing business lingo.
One of the trends that has worked in our favor is the increasing number of financial organizations that have realized the virtue of producing quality content hosted on their websites. I troll the blogs and “insights” sections of financial service websites in search of relevant and enlightened content to republish for the benefit of our readership — you and your peers.
So, with a little effort and moxie, I find industry content, but it also finds me. The latter is thanks, in large part, to our longevity as a publication (now in our ninth year), our credible track record of producing relevant content, our consistent presence at industry events, and strong relationships with industry professionals and the communications firms that represent those players, ranging from RIAs and broker/dealers to asset managers and family offices.
My email inbox teems with content opportunities. Industry experts are offered as sources, story concepts are proffered, market summaries and analyses are shared. The volume of these offers has proliferated as the magazine’s market awareness and readership have swelled.
And let’s be clear that contributed news content is not paid in any manner shape or form. I’ve come to learn how this differentiates us from publications who fancy themselves our “competitors.” But the distasteful pay-for-play gambit, which has become widespread in the publishing business, has forced me to preemptively alert executives I approach with requests to be cover profiles or author Market View or Big Picture columns that my entreaty is not a money-making ploy, but strictly an editorial department project.
To make the cut among industry contributions, readability comes first. Regardless of how enlightened and sophisticated your perspective and data, if it’s dense and impenetrable it will not be read, or at least not understood and retained by readers.
Several years ago, I drafted a writing and style guide for contributing writers. Here is the thrust.
The ideal writing style is embodied by The Economist magazine, with its clear, simple, authoritative writing.
Use examples where practical to bring the copy to life and offer real-world specificity to readers. Examples fall into the “show-don’t-tell” category of storytelling. Make sure your examples are relevant and tightly written.
Punctuation can be a danger zone. To overuse any form of punctuation will deplete its power. One of the most overused forms of punctuation these days is the dash — used like so — to set off phrases we want to emphasize. The problem is that when used a half dozen times or more in a single story, the power of the dash is lost, as is your power as the author. Preserve the power of punctuation (not counting periods and commas) by using it sparingly and prudently.
A few bullet points are fine, but articles with three or four blocks of bullet points are laborious and create an undesirably choppy effect for readers. Favor narrative over enumeration of bullet-point facts and statements.
Keep the writing agnostic and general, rather than referring to yourself or your company. Otherwise, the article will look and sound like a marketing piece, damaging its credibility.
Clearly, we don’t always hit the mark, but our aim is true.
Mike Consol (email@example.com) is senior editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter (@mikeconsol) and LinkedIn (linkedIn.com/in/mikeconsol) to read his latest postings.