My Day at The Writer Magazine: 5 Things I Learned

You know me, I always welcome an opportunity to learn something new when it comes to writing. I absorb anything that has to do with the craft of writing, as well as tips on how I can grow my business.

That’s why I jumped at the invitation to attend a focus group at The Writer magazine. The Writer is published by Kalmbach Publishing, who also publishes Astronomy, Bead & Button, Model Railroader, and Discover, among others. My only experience with The Writer was a subscription that someone bought for me years ago when I was about 18 (in other words – a long time ago!) and I really haven’t picked it up since. In truth, I really don’t subscribe to many magazines, although I do receive a lot of newsletters online and I read a lot of books. (As you know by my weekly news and links, I’m also an avid blog reader.) I was curious to see what the current version of the magazine was like.

Following are my thoughts from the focus group, some of which we can also apply to the writing world.

First Impressions Count, and The Writer Delivered
If you are a freelance writer, you know that the communication you give or receive helps form an impression. Got a client that never responds to you? That leaves an impression. Are you always tardy in your own correspondence? That always tells people something about you.

The Writer did a great job of communicating right off the bat. They provided us with a packet of information before the focus group that included two back issues of the magazine and a letter confirming the time and date of the session. The thing that impressed us all was the directions given. We received maps and even a picture of the building so we could find it easily. We were greeted at the door by a staff member of The Writer (I’m purposely not mentioning names here in case they don’t want to be listed) who directed us to another staff member who set us up in our room. We never had to wonder where we were going.

Good Writers Ask for Feedback
I was impressed with the overall concept of this focus group. After all, the magazine was opening itself up to hear (potentially) negative things. I had indicated that I wasn’t a current subscriber, and I got invited anyways.  The Writer was respectful of our opinions (good or bad) and in turn we provided constructive feedback (instead of criticism.)

As writers, asking for feedback is not always an easy thing. But it’s tremendously helpful in growing your business and in strengthening your client relationships. Don’t shy away from taking a few clients aside occasionally and asking an honest opinion of how you are doing.

Respecting the Diversity of Writing
You’ve heard me say this a zillion times, but I can’t help myself: We all come to writing from a different place and we all have different careers. We need to respect that. In my post about “20 Things I’ve Learned in Doing 200 Writer Interviews” my very first point was that “There really is no such thing as the same writing career for everyone.” Never was this illustrated more clearly than in The Writer focus group. I enjoyed hearing about the different projects that writers worked on, what their goals were, and how they went about their craft. There were ten of us and I really think I heard ten different goals, approaches, and experience levels.

I expected to get some flack about being a blogger, but there really wasn’t any of that. You know how sometimes you say you’re a blogger and people either look at you like you’re an alien, or they poo-poo your writing experience because you…. gasp…. blog. I like to keep my career diverse, so I do write and pitch magazine articles but I also blog, work one-on-one with clients, and write books. For me, diversity is the key to a long and healthy freelance career. If other freelancers don’t want to do that, it’s fine. The great thing about writing is we can all make our own choices on what’s right for our career.

The Printed Word is Alive and Well
There is a lot of talk these days about electronic printing. Some have even speculated that books as we know them will cease to exist. I don’t believe this, for the simple reason that the printed word is still a beautiful thing.

Having said that, I’m not one to keep back issues of magazines.  I know a lot of people do, though.  I like to read a magazine, absorb the information, and then have that info readily available online if I need to access it again. I do understand how Nooks and Kindles can improve a person’s life, and I think that all the advancements in electronic publishing are a positive thing for writers.  But I still think the printed word is here to stay.

When Writers Share, It Makes Us All Stronger
There are some writers that are very stingy about information. This is exactly the wrong attitude to have. First of all, times have changed. Writers don’t compete with each other in the same way. In fact, supporting another writer’s efforts can only make you a stronger writer. For example, when one mystery writer teams up with another to reach out to fans, it increases readership for both writers. When one freelancer helps another, it creates opportunities for both people. Case in point, yesterday an article from freelancer Kimberly Dawn Neumann made the lead story on Match.com’s Happen Magazine. I’ve written for Match in the past, but this was Kimberly’s article and I was happy to be used as source this time.

One thing I appreciated about The Writer was that the articles spoke to this variety. I’d like to see more articles that focus on one writer supporting another. I think this attitude can only help the community going forward. I’d also like to see more articles on blogging and marketing your work.

One thing that has stayed with me from the focus group was that The Writer cares about writing in every form. I think the magazine does a great job of telling you how to be a better writer, and their advice has the ability to reach every level.

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