Guest Newsletter – Anna Keirstan

Once a month we invite our Patrons, magazine publishers and enthusiasts to guest-edit our fortnightly email newsletter. The aim is to inspire others with magazine-related content, connect Patrons and build our community so we can learn from each other.

This month our guest editor is Anna Kierstan who is an editor, content consultant and all-round word nerd, with almost 20 years of trade, consumer and customer publishing magazine experience with brands including Which?, Drapers, HSBC, Specsavers and Weight Watchers. Last year she co-founded The Content Room, which works with companies to cut through their content clutter and sharpen up their brand story.

“Ironically, while my work life is dedicated to concise, clear and uncluttered communication, my spare hours are spent amassing a mismatched array of animals, art, plants, books and, of course, magazines.”

What’s on your mind?

As well as regular editing projects for clients, we’re about to run some self-editing and subbing training sessions for an online publisher. We’re also helping them develop inclusive writing and design guidelines, which has been really eye-opening. Over this lockdown I’ve made a dent in my towering pile of writing-related books. Recent ones I’ve loved include Diana Athill’s ‘Stet: An Editor’s Life’, and the amazing ‘Through the Language Glass’, which looks at how the language you speak affects the way you think about the world. I’ve just started ‘Nabokov’s Favourite Word Is Mauve’, which uses data to reveal which words some of the best-known authors use disproportionately compared to others, and why.

What’s the best article you’ve read this month?

I’m a big fan of Positive News, I love everything it stands for in its solutions-focused approach. I particularly enjoyed the ‘Bling without a sting’ article in the latest edition, looking at the projects underway to produce sustainable and ethical jewellery – from repurposing precious metals in electrical waste, to removing carbon from the atmosphere and turning it into diamonds.

I also have to mention the brilliant Life in the Day interview with Orlando Bloom in the Sunday Times Magazine at the end of March. Read it when you’re feeling grey and it should have you chuckling within a few paragraphs.

Positive News is a print-first title, and the Bling Without A Sting is from their latest issue, so not currently available online. But fear not! The lovely people at Positive News have offered International Magazine Centre readers a discount to buy the print issue – woohoo! 

Get 25% off Positive News subscription products using the discount code ‘MagLove25‘. Offer valid until the 9th of May. Thanks Positive News!

Show us an incredible magazine cover

I loved this cover on the 27 March edition of the Economist about the biomedical technologies that will transform human health.

After years of brain busting to think of the most eye-catching headers that perfectly match the overall concept of an article, I’ll never forget the feeling when you come up with one that feels just right. As well as being a sucker for a good pun, it made me raise a wry smile and want to read on.

What’s your top tip for publishers?

A few years ago I was jammy enough to convince a then-90-year-old Sir Harold Evans to talk to everyone at Which? about his career as a reporter and editor.

One of the most resonant things he said was that you must treat your readers as if they’re of equal intelligence but not necessarily equal knowledge, and that everything should go from there.

He said the best way to tell a story (once you’ve found a good one) is to cut the crap. Get to the point with clear words and not too many flouncy phrases.

Illustration by Valero Doval with thanks to Ikon Images.

When it comes to self-editing, I still find it most effective to just walk away from the words for a while, whether that’s for a 10-minute tea break or a whole day. Also be aware of your foibles. One of mine is to use far too many adjectives.

Another massive thing for me is to never underestimate the importance of a style guide, even if you’re a team of one. Of course I’d say this as a word geek. But also, as someone who ran a busy team of writers and editors for many years, I firmly believe a style guide is vital to achieve consistency and avoid any confusion in your copy – and any bust-ups over hyphen.

Whenever I start on a new project I’ll always make sure the client has a style guide, even if it’s just a simple Google doc we can keep adding to. I have about six that I refer to. The Guardian’s is my default (all hail the wondrous David Marsh), but I’m also a big fan of Mailchimp’s. (By the way, creating style guides is also one of my favourite things to do, so if yours needs improving, or you don’t have one yet, get in touch!)

Housty, we have a problem

What problem would you like our magazine guru, Peter Houston, to solve in the next newsletter?

My problem is: What do you think about the ubiquity of the word ‘content’?

(What words did we ever use before? What other words could we use now instead? Has its meaning been diluted? How can we classify different types/qualities of content?)…. I hope this isn’t too philosophical!

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