One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words


When was the last time you read a textbook? Did the pictures catch your attention? Sometimes pictures literally jump off the pages, other times you don’t even notice there are any. I’m a visual person and I remember things best in images (also text from a book page). The textbooks of my school years didn’t offer much for imagination. Mostly the illustrations of the time could be described as lame. Fortunately things have changed.

Types of Fruit by Eurwentala Illustration
Types of Fruit by Eurwentala aka. Maija Karala.

Illustrations have increased almost exponentially and they are now an integral part of textbooks. My own children go to elementary school and they study from textbooks with illustrated characters, who function as teachers – and indeed function, they have a very active role in the books.

How do you make an illustration?

Illustrating is a demanding process, even more so because of the realities of the publishing business. Maija Karala ended up working as an illustrator partly by an accident. Publishing company Otava contacted Maija to have a permission to use a picture they’ve seen in her blog and one thing led to another. Otava asked Maija to illustrate the new high school biology textbook called Koralli 1.

-A typical illustration process begins with a brief and a model picture sent to me by the publisher. This is the basis for my illustration assignment. Once I for example made a similar picture to the model picture, only changing the species into Finnish equivalents, Maija says.

How does a plant work? by Eurwentala aka. Maija Karala.

Tight Schedules

When the illustrator begins her work, she usually doesn’t have the final text of the book available. Maija made 46 illustrations for the biology textbook. Originally she had 4 months for the job, but in the end most of the illustrations were made in 4 weeks. Publishers often have very tight schedules, which become even more pressed if those working in the beginning of the project don’t keep up. As the book has to be ready by a certain deadline, the ones working in the end stages have to speed up. An illustrator is normally one of the latter.

Maija hopes that she could collaborate more with the writers of the textbooks, but the schedules often don’t allow that. However, she’s thrived even with the rushed work schedule. In fact, illustrating assignments have increased so much, she’s been forced to cut down writing jobs.

Written in bone by Eurwentala aka. Maija Karala.

A Good Illustration is a Clear One

-A good illustration gives all the information it should, but it is also esthetically pleasing. Although the schedules are tight, it’s worth while to use enough time to think over what you actually want to do. There is no point in copying something that has already been done. The illustrations also have to be very clear to look good in print, Maija says.

The blog has worked as a great reference for Maija. Besides Otava, the Finnish National Board of Education has found Maija through her blog.

-A blog gives you freedom to try things out. You don’t need to please any certain audience there, Maija tells. It is also an easy way to present your style and skills for a potential client. Choosing an illustration is often also a choice of the style and technique, especially if the illustrator has a distinctive style.



Maija Karala in Deviant Art

Maija’s blog: Erään planeetan ihmeitä




The Best Time to Publish



Non-profit Magazines: Pick Your Date!

Publishing non-profit magazines is bliss – there’s so much freedom! With freedom come choices. One major decision is to figure out when and how often to publish the magazine. It’s very easy to pick a traditional pattern and let the budget direct the choice. Common options for a traditional print magazine are monthly, six times a year or four times a year. All potentially good choices, depending on the purpose of the magazine and the way it is financed.

Two Main Financing Options

The main financing options for non-profit magazines are subscriptions or advertisements or the combination of these two. However, it seems that most often it’s either one or the other. Advertising option requires a lot of effort to sell advertising space, so if the subscription model is functioning, most publications tend to content themselves with it.

This also stems from the nature of many non-profit magazines as a mouthpiece of the association publishing them and the magazine being originally just a bonus for the members. However, many magazines have evolved far from that humble origin and could in fact start to consider themselves as independent publications.

Subscription Model: Reader is the King

In the case of subscriptions, consider the topics of the magazine and when they would be most valuable and entertaining for your readers.

Let’s take Maatiainen, one of the magazines I edit, as an example. It is published four times a year. The main topics of Maatiainen are gardening, animal husbandry and traditional landscapes. The magazine is financed entirely by subscriber income a.k.a. association membership fees. Its publisher is an association, whose purpose is to promote all these topics: Maatiainen ry.

Maatiainen comes out on February, May, October and December. There’s logic to these dates:

  • The first issue of the year is published in February together with a seed catalogue, the latter determining the publishing date for the magazine too. The seed sales are an important income source for the association, so this issue is very important.
  • Second issue comes out in May, just before the summer begins. This is a good time to escort readers to the delights of gardening and husbandry at the beginning of the peak season.
  • Third issue is published in October. It is the time of harvest, afterthought of summer’s activities and preparation to the autumn.
  • The fourth issue is published in December with Christmas theme.

This schedule has its pitfalls:

  • December and February issues are very close to each other, so in practice they’ve being made partly at the same time.
  • February is a bit late for seed orders, as other seed catalogues come out earlier. However, Maatiainen association gets its seeds in later. This is a bit of a problem.
  • There’s a very long pause between May and October issues. There are good reasons for it, though. For Maatiainen subscribers summer is an outdoor season, when reading is not the priority. It takes time after summer vacations to get in the articles from the contributors. And October is the natural harvest season, which gives a good theme for the autumn issue.

In other words there are quite a lot of external factors determining the publishing dates. How would you arrange Maatiainen’s publishing schedule? Let me know in the comments!

Advertising Model: Reader and Advertiser Both at the Throne

Are advertisers your financial backbone? In that case the needs of the businesses should be kept in mind, when planning the publishing schedule. This can be a difficult task in the withering ad markets of the print media.

Different types of businesses have very different needs regarding advertising. Supermarkets look for, if not daily, at least weekly publishing. Fortunately, the slower publishing rate works for the local small businesses. A plumber and a hairdresser are mostly looking for exposure, which suits perfectly for a magazine with more spread out publishing dates.

The other non-profit magazine I’m editing, Oulunkyläinen, is a good example of this.  Oulunkyläinen is a magazine published by Oulunkylä-Seura, a local residents’ association. The magazine is distributed in 11 boroughs and is an important platform for discussion on local issues. It is published as a tabloid newspaper and comes out six times a year.

The publishing months are February, March, May, September, October and late November. There’s a long pause in the summer with this magazine too. The reason for the pause is summer vacation, which keep both readers and voluntary contributors at bay. The publishing dates are set to precede major events: Valentine’s Day and the school winter break, Easter, the end of the school year and the start of the summer vacations, Halloween and the school autumn break, Christmas season. These are all also major commercial opportunities for businesses and thus interesting advertising seasons.

Would a different publishing schedule work better for this kind of magazine? The physical appearance of the magazine seems to arouse one recurring misunderstanding. A tabloid form being connected with daily newspapers, it is difficult for the readers and contributors to understand that the magazine is in fact a periodical. There are similar local magazines in Helsinki published by associations that come out monthly or even weekly.

Next year there will be an exception to the normal publishing schedule. Communal elections are being held in Finland on the 9th April and thus it is important to publish the second issue right before the elections. Why so? There are two main reasons: to have the opportunity to dwell in important community issues on the articles and to get the ever so important candidate advertisements in the magazine.

This brings us to the second main factor of magazines financed by advertisements. It is important to think businesses when planning the publishing schedule, but it is equally important to keep the readers in mind. Because ultimately, the magazine is interesting for the advertisers only, if it is interesting for the readers. With timely, discussion provoking content, which also the readers deem important, it is possible to create and maintain a broad readership.

What is your publications publishing schedule and what’s the logic behind it?



How to Stay within the Word Limit?


How to write a concise text?

I’m just between two publications – one is almost ready for print, the deadline for materials to the other is in a few days. Having edited a bunch of texts and returned a few for rewriting to their authors, I think it’s a good time to write about the art of writing a concise text.

All too often I receive an article with double the amount of text that was originally agreed on. And it’s quite understandable in the non-profit publications. Contributors rarely are writing for living, instead they most often are writing out of passion to the topic – they have much to say. I as the editor, on the other hand, have only limited amount of pages to offer. To make the equation work, cuts are inevitable.

This is not the perfect scenario for many reasons; the contributors often don’t like it, it increases the work load of the editing process and regarding some skillfully constructed articles it is difficult to cut any excess that really isn’t there.

Better to write to the correct length from the start.

3 enemies of a concise text

One simple rule to writing goes a long way: planning. Plan ahead what you want to say about the topic. What are the angle, scope and elements of the text – is there going to be quotations from an interview, for example. Then allocate space for all these within you text range and take care not to overstep the limit.

If you find afterwards there’s too much text anyway, check that you haven’t fallen victim to the three major enemies of concise text:

  1. Redundancy. This is surprisingly common in all texts.
  2. Excessive use of adverbs and adjectives. One modifier is quite enough and often you don’t need any!
  3. Rambling. Is everything you’ve written really within the topic?

With these three things in control, you should be able to keep your text in line. And if you truly have too much to say for just one article, consider turning it into a series!

Hungry for more detailed advice? Mark Nichol at DailyWritingTips has some sound advice for streamlining your writing.