TOWSON, MD—Consolidated Concepts copywriter Ronald Leff announced Monday that his vision for the Black & Decker Electronic Toast-R-Oven™ Broiler instruction booklet was "thoroughly betrayed" in the final editing process.
"[Department head] Charlie [Standell] altered the entire thrust and focus of my operating instructions," said a seething Leff, 31, upon seeing the final edit. "I toiled over it for weeks, crafting each phrase until it was perfect, but then he just goes ahead and changes it all around for no apparent reason."
Added Leff: "The broiling directions, the safety warnings, the warranty guidelines... it's all completely different."
Consolidated Concepts, one of the nation's leading producers of consumer-goods packaging and supplementary materials, was first contracted to produce the Toast-R-Oven™ booklet in November 2000. After a series of editorial meetings were held to determine an overall direction for the work, Leff was assigned the task of writing the copy. Despite assurances that he would have full creative control over the project, Leff said the booklet's final version "barely resembled [his] last draft."
"Look at this section here: 'Slide-Out Rack And Bake Pan.' This whole section is Charlie. None of this is mine," said Leff, pointing to a page in the "grossly compromised" work. "The heading, as I wrote it, was 'Using And Enjoying The Slide-Out Rack And Bake Pan.' I can't tell you how many drafts I went through to get the rhythm and scansion of that header just right. Then, out of nowhere, Charlie just waves his wizard wand and changes it to this clunky, graceless, 'Slide-Out Rack And Bake Pan' crap."
Standell defended the change. "A sticking point for me was the word 'enjoying,'" Standell said. "You don't really 'enjoy' a slide-out tray. I just thought 'enjoying' was off. Then, once I cut that, it became apparent to me that you don't need any action words here at all: Just tell the reader what part of the toaster you're about to talk about, and leave it at that. This was clearly a case of 'less is more'—something that's never been Ron's strong suit. He has a real tendency to overwrite."
Leff also took exception to Standell's changes to the section warning against inserting metal implements into the toaster.
"The way I'd written that part, nobody would ever again stick a fork in a toaster," Leff said. "I wrote something truly brilliant and special. And look what Charlie changed it to."
Said Standell: "Ron had this whole long passage about how 400 Americans are killed by electrocution every year. You just don't see that sort of thing in an instruction booklet. It was way too editorializing and totally broke voice."
Standell, Leff's supervisor for the past eight years, said he is sympathetic to Leff's objections, but insisted that the changes were for the best.
"Black & Decker's instruction manuals always have a certain gravity, a certain seriousness of purpose to them," Standell said. "Overall, Ron did a good job, but there were parts where he simply injected too much of himself rather than maintain that dry, detached, sober Black & Decker tone."
Leff said there is a "control freak" factor at work.
"Charlie makes a lot of changes that are totally arbitrary. A perfect example is my paragraph on removing and cleaning the crumb tray," Leff said. "He changed 'scrubbing pad' to 'scouring pad' purely for the sake of change, as though he needed to feel like he was an editor. I specifically asked Charlie about his thought process behind that one, and he couldn't even give an answer. He just said, 'I don't know, something about "scrubbing pad" just didn't sound right.'"
"I'm not some greenhorn who needs to be reined in," Leff continued. "I wrote the instructions for the Sanyo KX-200 portable AM/FM tape player. And I co-wrote the instructions for the Amana 400 Electric Range, one of the best-selling appliances of 1999. In fact, it was the best-selling freestanding range. And I did it without Charlie's involvement at all."
Added Leff: "Maybe I'll quit Consolidated Concepts and work for an appliance company with some respect for the artistic process, like Magic Chef."