Another out of print book - how fast texts become obsolete. This is about advertising and copy writing and it's a good read for an author as well. Howard talks about working like an athlete - practise hard and analyse your performance and you will improve. There is a lot about the power of words. Apparently just looking at the word 'happy' produces measurably different physical responses from looking at the word 'sad'. I can believe this because I had to read Midnight's Children for my course. A very useful exercise as it turned out, because when I said I hated it, my tutor, quite rightly, told me that wasn't a good enough response and to find out why. Imagine the worst foreign toilet you ever experienced. It's hot and you don't feel well. This book made me feel as if I was locked in a place like that. It made my skin crawl - and a lot of that was to do with the words on the page: snot, spew, sweat, soiled, creepy, foul, mire and many more, all in one sentence. When I'd finally got through it I picked up a children's book: rose petals, velvet, fresh green grass, sunshine and birdsong. The contrast was amazing.
Another good point he makes is that people have limited time and interest. You can capture them with the unexpected, surprise and involvement. To get them involved you make it personal. Not 'The Witch' but 'I married a Witch.' The facts are not enough. "Apples are good for you, contain minerals and vitamins and can aid good health" is an unsold book. 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away,' catches interest.
The point I find most interesting now is his comment that if you want to make 30 seconds seem like a long time, you don't do to much in it. He's talking about TV adverts of course, but he quotes Irving Berlin as saying about songs: 'All I need is a catchy phrase that anyone can understand.' If you have a few separate elements and you bring them together in a simple message, it's more effective. I think it's the same with books. When I read beginner's books (if you are published, everyone has a novel to show you!) they always seem woolly, diverse, scatter gun. There's too much stuff piled in there and it doesn't seem to fit anywhere. I think it's Orson Scott Card who says that readers all have a set of little questions in their heads and one of them is: 'Why are you telling me this?' Its made me think again about the importance of the high concept. Jaws is a good example - the book and the film are simply about a big fish and its effect on a town with a tourist beach. How simple is that? And how well does it work?
The final piece of advice is the one that stayed with me. I think of it every time I get one of those work emails where you have to fight your way to the meaning through a thicket of imperfectly understood grammar and business jargon. Howard says in all business communication your guiding principal should be: 'Would I say this to a friend?'