Don't Write Down to European Audiences!
by Nancy Arrowsmith
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Many North American writers make the mistake of writing down to
European audiences. There is nothing wrong in patiently
explaining things, but articles for European audiences have to
go a bit beyond that. A little punning, some introspection,
personal touches or a hardcore technical treatise have more
chance of being sold in Europe than a simplistic text at a 4th-
grade school level. Although humor is widely appreciated, be very
sure that you understand the particular humor of the people you
are writing for.
How do European reading audiences differ from North American
audiences? Here are a few general thoughts.
- Europeans read more. The per capita consumption of books and
magazines is prodigious, especially in Great Britain and Holland.
- Despite this, European reading audiences are much, much smaller
than North American markets, since there are many languages
involved. Often, books and magazines are produced for world
language markets. It is very difficult, though, to write for
Spanish as well as Mexican audiences, or for American, Canadian,
British, Australian and Indian audiences at the same time.
- The general reading level is higher in Europe than in North
America. A European John or Jane Doe will generally read at a
higher level (Flesh-Kincaid readability scale) than an American
John Doe. North American audiences are often either extremely
erudite (A level) or semi-illiterate (sub C level). The well-
educated middle class (B level) seems to be shrinking. In Europe,
it is alive and well, and reads books. European academics tend to
read special-interest literature, and the semi-illiterate usually
limit their reading to the boulevard presses. This leaves us with
a large, fairly well-read class that regularly consumes books and
periodicals and wants other people to consider them well-educated
(a high prestige factor).
- There is less internal media censorship in Europe than in North
America. Because of this, texts are often more outspoken or
radical, with more explicit language and sexual allusions.
Counterculture is an important part of cultural life, and is not
"pushed over the edge" into pornography or sedition, but
incorporated into mainstream or borderline publications. Criticisms
of the powers that be are more marked in European publications,
and there is less fear of being sued for libel. As a result,
reporting is often more personal.
- Some journalistic areas are closed for outsiders, and it is
very difficult for journalists who are not members of the European
old-boys network to get their foot in the door. This is especially
the case if there is big money involved.
- Some areas of interest that are very large in North America are
almost non-existent in Europe, and vice-versa.
- Religious literature in Europe is usually limited to the
publications of established religions, or the self-published
writings of sects. Evangelical or general Christian literature is
lacking, with the exception of the role of faith in healing.
- Gay and lesbian publications are limited and are often included
in counterculture publications.
- Counterculture publications are numerous, despite the ever-
increasing importance of the Internet. Web use is not as
widespread in Europe, although it is growing by leaps and bounds.
Writing possibilities in this area are available in newspapers,
magazines and on the Internet.
- There is extensive interest in Europe in technological, medical
and computer literature. Europeans are not always on the cutting
edge of innovation, but they are quick to pick up on something
that they can use in their professions. For example, an American
doctor may develop a new operating technique -- and a specialist
clinic in Germany or Switzerland may be using and perfecting this
technique before the FDA has given its final approval. Articles
on the newest developments are scanned carefully by European
- Companies often publish their own magazines in order to promote
their corporate identity, technological or service developments,
or to show customers that they are "hip" and "with it". European
credit card company and airline publications are often very
lively and pay well.
- Alternative and ecological subjects can be sold to both counter-
culture and mainstream European markets. "Ecology" usually means
practical ecology in Europe and not nature study. Ecotourism is a
hot subject and ecological success stories are also a good choice,
for many publications want to better their images as "peddlers of
doom", and need upbeat stories.
- Interviews with great thinkers or innovators are valued by most
European readers, who are interested in personal views on world
affairs and are firm believers in established culture.
- Gossip is a big thing in Europe, as in the rest of the world,
but is often quite national in scope. But if you do happen to
have the inside scoop and photos about the going-ons of European
stars in Hollywood, then you should have little trouble in selling
those articles for good money.
Find Out More...
Copyright © 2000 Nancy Arrowsmith
- Is "Intercultural" Communication a Moot Point? - Geoff Hart
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
is an American who has lived and worked in Germany and Austria
for 25 years. She has published several books in English and
German, the latest being Das grosse Buch der Naturgeister,
Thienemann Verlag. She was founder, Herausgeberin and
editor-in-chief (Chefredakteurin) of Germany's first magazine for
organic gardening, kraut & rueben, for six years.
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