Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This, I believe, is the great Western truth: that each of us is a completely unique creature and that, if we are ever to give any gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfillment of our own potentialities, not someone else's." -- Joseph Campbell

If this isn't a call for memoir, I don't know what is. Recently I started a job writing for WoodenHorse Publishing which maintains a magazine database. I'm paying more attention to the magazine industry and watching them fold, fold, fold. Self destruct might be a better description. They say the reason for their demise is dwindling advertising revenue or Internet competition or FREE information via Internet. But I think it is plain old inertia.

Anais Nin puts it this way: "Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death."

And dying they are -- age old publications like I.D (International Design) magazine have been around since the 1950s -- but are closing. Of course there is Kirkus and Editor and Publisher and National Geographic Adventure Magazine and on the list goes.

The editors at I.D. contest that they could have survived. They could have embraced the Internet just as their competitors had done and with their respected brand, could have made a go of it. The magazine hosts an annual design event that brings in quite a hefty income, so their foundation in the design industry is stable. Sadly F&W Media who own I.D. Magazine do not invest any of the funds from the annual event directly back into the magazine. And the editors readily admit that they have not acknowledged the needs of their audience, advertisers nor changed with the times.

I also think the readership has changed and is demanding more. Magazines, particularly women's magazines, seem to think we are a superficial lot and if they just give us the same hash rehashed each season, it will keep readers happy. Lipstick, shoes, hairdos and makeup seem to be bread and butter for women's magazines. Would I read an article about what color of lipstick is in for the coming season? Not if it is longer than a paragraph or two. Would I read an article about the history of lipstick? About the inventor of the corset and its dynamic in the gender wars? You bet! Is it offered in any of the seven sister magazines? Nope.

As writers maybe we are not offering the magazines an opportunity to change and grow. I see that list articles are popular. Every magazine has a front cover sporting the term 'the top 5, 10, 50 ways to leave your lover or some kind of list that lures people inside. What about the top five most deadly professions or businesses or the top 10 ways to teach your child responsibility? Or maybe the five reasons prostitution is on the rise. Maybe the 5 things your mother never told you about marriage....

Maybe there's something you want to write about but don't think anyone would read it? If you don't put it out there, it won't get read, for sure! Maybe it is time that writers stop trying to figure out what editors want and give them what they need. They all live in their little ivory towers working 24-7 to put out a magazine and they don't get out in the real world and see what their readerships sees. Perhaps check out your favorite magazine and see what it is failing to provide for your needs and then write it.

If you look at the list of successful writers, they did not write evergreen pieces that were merely a rehash of last year's evergreen story. They introduced something new. Erma Bombeck and Elizabeth Berg offered magazines a new voice. It is time for a new generation of writers to step forward and add their voices to the printed page.

Redbook recently added six new columnists to their stable of writers. All but one were popular bloggers. One wrote edgy pieces for Salon. But all have their own voice. Their own approach to a topic that they now own. Most have written at least one book. All have reinforced Campbell's words: these bloggers/writers/columnists are all unique and are giving to the world based upon their experience and unique perspective. We need more writers who will be true to themselves and write what they NEED to write and not just try to give an editor what he or she thinks she needs. Most of the time editors don't know what they need until they see it.... Put more of yourself into your articles -- not I or me -- but your experiences, your needs, your perception, your knowledge, your spin.

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