Welcome to our latest fortnightly eBulletin, posted here on 15 May 2018. In this issue:
Have you ever headed for the toilets in a restaurant and been confronted by two doors bearing baffling hieroglyphics to choose between? Yes, me too.
British restaurant critic Jay Rayner is marvellously acerbic and a very fine writer, and this article is spot on when it says that labelling restrooms according to your ‘theme’ is both annoying and confusing. Think ‘samurai’ and ‘geisha’ in sushi bars, or ‘Olafs’ and ‘Helgas’ in a Viking-themed New York place – does this ring any bells? (If you have a favourite example, do share!)
Imposing your clever in-jokes on readers will never win you fans if they have to spend time translating your message. ‘Anything that makes you pause, even just out of irritation, should be punishable by a massive fine, or at the very least extreme tutting’, says Rayner.
If the next time you’re writing copy you’re congratulating yourself on how clever you’ve been, pause for a moment to consider if it’ll also be appreciated by a reader who may simply need to know what you have to offer, why it’s beneficial, and how to get it.
Read Jay Rayner’s article for yourself. Highly recommended.
Our Copywriting Workshop is the place to be to help you see writing copy in a whole new light.
Alison Flood’s recent article in The Guardian drew attention to the fact that fiction publishers, and indeed their authors, are increasingly paying ‘sensitivity readers’ to assess manuscripts for any words, phrases or content that might be offensive. The implication is that no author has the right to appropriate a persona that is not their own. And it’s suggested that some publishers cite a positive ‘vetting’ as a USP when presenting to sales teams.
I believe that professional copyediting is crucial in quality publishing in all sectors, but shouldn’t issues around racism or sexism be flagged during this process if it’s being done well? Likewise, quality authors go to great lengths in their research to make characters and settings sound and feel authentic. And the world would surely be a poorer place if an author wasn’t able to write in the character of a very different persona.
If the pursuit of eradicating any content likely to offend a reader is taken too far, that seems to me to be dangerously close to censorship. Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory would never have made it (cruelty to rabbits). Countless other titles would have failed too. And as Francine Prose in the New York Review of Books asks, should we ‘dismiss Madame Bovary because Flaubert lacks ‘lived experiences’ of being a woman, or ‘no longer read Othello because Shakespeare wasn’t black’?
‘The day my novels are sent to a sensitivity reader is the day I quit’, said Lionel Shriver on the subject.
I’d be really interested to hear what you think if you have any experience of sensitivity readers. Are my concerns legitimate, or do they really add value and perspective and help authors get it right? Just reply to this email to send me your comments.
Read the Alison Flood article for yourself in The Guardian.
Sometime during the Pleistocene era I moved from academic bookselling to become a marketing manager in academic publishing. I had a lot to learn in my new role. What I discovered very quickly, though, was that my new colleagues had almost no idea of how bookshops operated, or booksellers made decisions, despite the fact that at that stage there was no internet or Amazon and the book trade was crucial to our visibility.
I love this initiative by the Booksellers’ Association which invites top academic publishers to work alongside booksellers for a day. The BA’s Managing Director Meryl Halls said at last week’s Academic Book Trade Conference: ‘It is about bringing the industry closer together and will hopefully help publishers to think of booksellers in their conversations all the time. For publishers, often a simple idea can come from it which they take away and find useful. We then urge booksellers to spend a day in a publisher’s offices.’
Read for yourself in The Bookseller (you need to be a subscriber).
Our Impressive Marketing Plans on a Small Budget Workshop always stresses the importance of relationships with key partners in the supply chain, with authors, with journalists, with any third parties. Understanding the value you both bring to the party is key to planning realistic marketing at minimal cost.
What does the word ‘typo’ mean to you?
Typo the Australian stationery company would like you to think of them as ‘quirky, vintage and irreverent, adding personality to everyday items through humour, graphics and design’. Unfortunately, every time I pass the shop in my local town centre what I’m actually thinking is ‘why call yourself after a typographical error?’
The moral of this story is always to check definitions before launching ‘cool-sounding’ new brand names. (The Destroy beauty parlour in Ulaanbaatar and Vertigo hairdressing near Richmond UK are two other cases in point.)