My Manifesto

Hi Writers,
A writer friend of mine pointed out a particularly harsh remark about Writer’s Digest on Scott Oden’s blog that I’d like to respond to here. 
 
Here’s a passage from his post:
I started writing and submitting in 1984. Back then, you had to do some serious legwork to discover not only where to send stories, but what editors were on the lookout for. There was no Internet, at least, not for mass public consumption, so market research involved hoofing it to the library—which had an impressive array of periodicals—and jotting down info from the masthead, or browsing their old and battered copy of Writer’s Market. This was back when Writer’s Digest was actually a useful resource and not a mouthpiece for the vanity press industry, as it is today.

Since these remarks show little knowledge of Writer’s Digest or the magazine industry, I’d like to point out a few relevant facts and let you judge for yourself.

Writer’s Digest magazine has been in existence since 1920, and “vanity press” advertising has been included since its inception.
• All of the writing magazines (our competitors) also include “vanity press” advertising.
• A typical magazine has an editorial/advertising ratio of 60/40.
• The editorial/advertising ratio of Writer’s Digest is 80/20. (80% editorial content/20% ads).
• All magazines rely on advertising to help cover the enormous costs of production and shipping.
• Without advertising revenue, subscription and newsstand prices would be prohibitively expensive for readers. The price would have to double (at least) in order for the magazine to continue to exist.
• Without advertising, it would be impossible to continue providing such a wealth of free online content.

Finally, as the editor of Writer’s Digest, it’s difficult for me not to take Oden’s remark personally because it calls into question the integrity of our editorial staff, as journalists and editors. I can speak for my entire staff when I say that we are no one’s mouthpiece. Everything in the 80% of the magazine that’s editorial content is chosen by our editorial staff. And we do not do advertorials.

Nobody tells me what to say, what to think, what to write or what to include in Writer’s Digest—not our publisher, not our advertising rep and certainly not our advertisers. The only people I listen to when it comes to our editorial content are my editors and our readers.

I’ve read just about every piece of Reader Mail that’s come to Writer’s Digest in the four years I’ve been on the masthead and I communicate with our readers on a daily basis, on our forum and through this blog.

I spend most of my time thinking about the magazine—how to continually make it better and how to serve our readers better. I would confidently and proudly put Writer’s Digest today up against the Writer’s Digest of any era, even the one Scott Oden waxes poetic about. I think it’s a disservice to other writers that Oden disclaims the very resource that he admits helped bring his success in the first place.  

If you have any questions or concerns about any of this, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment here, or you can find me on our forum in the WD Editors section.

Keep Writing,
Maria Schneider
Editor
Writer’s Digest

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8 thoughts on “My Manifesto

  1. RD Williams

    When first I read this blog post about Scott Oden’s reference about Writer’s Digest my first thought was that he was one of these ‘rage against the establishment’ type individuals who lash out at everything just because it exists. His remarks in response though made me realize that he is a sensible person, and he does make a decent point about a reader’s response to things they see in print.

    However, when readers take adds as being the ‘words of the editor/magazine’ they show that they are not really fully comprehending what they are reading. Oh yes, they read the words, the see the pictures, and they understand what is being said, but they don’t comprehend the add/editorial relationship. The fact that there are many people that do this is actually very sad. I do though think that Mr Oden should have thought about that particular comment before he made it, mainly due to the wording being not directed at the comprehension of the reader and or society, but at the magazine itself(maybe Mr Oden needs to look at his comprehension of what he is writing and how it will be taken by others a bit more closely, just a thought).

    All that being said, I wanted to also put my voice out there, commending Writer’s Digest for NOT becoming a mouthpiece for their advertisers or anyone else. In media today(and in my opinion, here in lies the crux of the problem), more and more ‘jouralists’ seem to be forgetting what the word ‘journalist’ means. They tout opinion as news, and editorials are taken as ‘news fact’ rather than what they are meant to be. This happens with magazine today also, where an editor will ‘push’ the services of their bigger sponsers, not just by putting adds out for them, or posting adds on their website to direct traffic to them, but by touting them in their editorials. Well, I could go on about this for days, and maybe I should do so in my own blog. At anyrate, thank you Writer’s Digest, and thank you Maria Schneider.

  2. MJ

    This caught my eye: "All magazines rely on advertising to help cover the enormous costs of production and shipping."

    Most, but not all. I’ve been published numerous times in ad-free Carus pubs (publishers of Cricket and a dozen other children’s/YA magazines). I’ve subscribed to Cook’s Illustrated and Writer’s Ask (both ad-free) and New Scientist (mostly ad free, except for job postings). Prices are higher but not prohibitive.

    I don’t have as much confidence as others that readers differentiate well between editorial and advertising. I think a lot of subconscious processing occurs — some of it interpreted as editorial endorsement of advertisers. Particularly when ads are carefully positioned alongside relevant editorial.

    That positioning can backfire on editorial, too. Years ago when I read Glamour, a cigarette ad appeared opposite a filler that blasted smoking. I wrote to the editors and they responded that Conde Nast corporate controlled all advertising. But it’s those editors and their magazine that looked schizophrenic.

  3. :Donna

    I, for one, think that one of the most important issues on the planet is that of "misunderstandings". When Maria immediately spoke out, airing her thoughts on Scott’s comments, then Scott responded right away, it cleared up what could’ve been nasty; it’s over quickly with each person being correctly understood right away. Yea for you both 🙂

    A quick comment on vanity publishing: I see one of the biggest problems with "new" writers is their lack of knowledge about publishing, in general. Their eyes seem to be filled with the stars of fame and glory, either neglecting to learn the realities of the industry, or choosing to ignore them. So many writers simply want to consider themselves "published" authors and will pay to have that done, regardless of the quality (more the lack of) of their work. It is my experience that most aspiring writers have a very inflated opinion of the quality of their work, and cannot accept criticism, suggestions or rejection; they do not accept what it truly takes to be an accomplished writer with high-quality work. Any book I’ve seen that was self-published was of very poor-quality writing. I would think it’s a very rare occurence that a self-published book could be a big seller or even break even financially, let alone see the light of day. (The "Eragon" series is rare and the circumstances behind it had everything to do with its success.)

    There is such a plethora of vanity publishing now, mostly due to the internet. Anyone who fails to learn the realities makes their own mistakes. I see nothing wrong with vanity publishers advertising in writing magazines, since they are useful for certain purposes. If these publishers are able to capitalize on the "new" writers’ beliefs that it’s the way to become a best-selling author, it’s the writer’s fault if their eagerness to be "published" and have their name in print makes them take an expensive step that 99.9% of the time leads nowhere.

    Anyway, I’ll step down off my soapbox. I think I’m just fed up with the "do anything for fame and feel special" mentality of the culture, and vanity publishing is just one other way of people trying to accomplish that.
    : Donna

  4. Deborah Bouziden

    Yes, thank goodness Scott did respond. I have subscribed and read Writer’s Digest since I began my career back in (mumble, mumble) 1983. Times have changed and are continuing to change. Perhaps an article on the differences between traditional, vanity, and self-publishing are in order.

    No, no. Wait. I read an article in WD not too long ago on those very subjects. You do try to educate your audience Maria, if that audience will take the time to read between the front and back covers.

    Kudos!

  5. Gary Breeding

    While I can appreciate Scott’s "frustration," it seems to me he could better serve new writers by explaining the facts of life about publishing, if that is really needed. If new writers (or anyone else that reads a magazine, for that matter), honestly believes that ads in magazines (Writers Digest or not) are no different than the editorial in the magazine, their education has been restricted and they need to know the difference.

    I worked in the communications industry for 40 years. Editorial integrity is ALL that a magazine has to sell – then they must, of course, deliver that to a qualified circulation. Readers who assume ads drive the editorial content or are endorsed by the editorial staff must have a garage full of "things," from cars to drugs to cigarettes to . . ., as they run out to buy that which is advertised in all the magazines they read.

    That being said, Scott showed some class in responding so quickly.

    Gary Breeding

  6. Michael E Cope

    I’m really glad to see the gentleman, wake up, and apologize for his comments.
    I’m an aspiring writer, and thanks to WD, I was able to query and agent and she asked for my MS. I know this is unusual the first time out of the bag, but, if it wasn’t for WD listing the agency, I would never have queried them.
    So, as far as I am concerned, WD is wonderful and enlightening. Please keep up the great work, be well, Michael

  7. Scott Oden

    Dear Ms. Schneider,

    I certainly did not mean to impugn the integrity of you or your staff. My off-the-cuff comment was extremely thoughtless and I apologize for it. But, it wasn’t something that came to me out of left field. I deal with quite a few young and new writers who believe that if they see something in the pages of Writer’s Digest, then it must have your magazine’s venerable stamp of approval. This includes vanity publishers.

    Honestly, I don’t know what you or your magazine’s stance is on vanity and self publishing over commercial publishing. For myself, I believe there’s a time and place for all three, but aspiring novelists who are hoping for a career should exhaust every possible avenue for commercial publication before turning to the others — no matter how long it takes. It frustrates me to see otherwise good and salable writers give up after two or three rejections, whip out the checkbook, and pay rather than be paid. I’m sorry if I took my frustrations out on your magazine (which did, indeed, provide me with much-needed guidance during the early stages of my career).

    Thank you for your time.

    Best,

    Scott Oden

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