How to Use ‘Curb Appeal’ to Lure ‘Readers’
What pulls people in to a magazine: words or images? If you answer “words” or “ideas” then you are a word person, but, if you are at all open to rational argument, not entirely hopeless. You must understand the reality of publishing today. Just watch your reactions as you page-flip a magazine that marginally interests you. What stops you? Ten to one that if there are nonwords printed on the page, it isn’t the words, even the carefully honed headlines, pull quotes, captions or other verbal display.
Words are the last stuff the potential reader gets involved in, with text last of all, because it presupposes effort, work, thought and investment of time.
That’s precisely where visuals (images, tables, etc.) come in, since they create instant curiosity that we can harness to our purposes to draw these viewers into the story. At the instant when curiosity is tickled, they are open to an explanation and, if we’ve done our editing and designing cannily, perhaps even eager for it. And they are caught.
Like it or not, we live in a visual age. The dignified publications of yesteryear have vanished, except for a few special, sophisticated journals for circles of cognoscenti. Stories make the news on TV only if the images are there. The audience members are lookers first, so no images, no story, regardless of how important the subject. That’s what viewers expect, and catering to their preference makes or breaks today’s publishing on screen or paper. Dumbing down? Cheaper journalism? No! Just a different technique of disseminating knowledge.
Tell-and-show … or show-and-tell?
Years ago, I had an awful fight with my editor when I submitted the manuscript for a book on typography. In those primitive days, you couldn’t blend visuals with words to compose complete pages. You drew sketches and put illustrations in a separate folder, and keyed them to the text somehow (and invariably it all got fouled up). Being a designer, I insisted on showing precisely what went where, so I taped reduced-size photocopies of the drawings onto the typescript. Fine, except the I was given showed everything “upside down” (in reverse order to what I mapped out). The editor (splendid word-person that she was) rigidly believed in “readers,” so she first had to state the proposition in words on the page and then “illustrate” it. I, being a visual person, believed that you stimulate the undecided page-flippers by showing them something first to intrigue them, and only then explaining it.