Why did I drop my subscription in the first place?
Every writer’s workshop I attend recommends Poets & Writers. The reason given—every time— is that it’s the only true magazine that gives you real insight into real writers and real writing.
I duly subscribed. All I can say is that it’s a rather depressing read. Look at the photos. Every writer tries his or her hardest to look terribly solemn. Or maybe terribly downtrodden. Certainly miserable. I suppose they all think they won’t be taken seriously unless they look as though they’re in enough pain to write wondrous prose. Oh, and there’s this undercurrent through all the articles and editorials that unless you’re just as miserable you can’t possibly write publishable prose. Look how these authors suffered! See how misunderstood they’ve been all their lives! We can teach you how to suffer in ten easy lessons!
This is not for me. For one thing, I’m bipolar, so I can get depressed all by myself without any help from a miserable writer. And is writing really such a lonely and miserable activity? I don’t think so. Frankly, writing the Broom series was a blast! I enjoy writing and I enjoy getting positive feedback from my readers that they enjoyed reading the books!
“Well,” huff the hard-done-by writers. “You certainly don’t want to subscribe to Writer’s Digest [sniff] because it lets publishers advertise.” Ok, fair warning, I thought, so I picked up a copy for careful forensic evaluation (with tongs and gloves). Everyone in the magazine is smiling, I noted. Gee, the publishers must’ve paid off these people. “Craft a foolproof story plan: 3 simple steps.” “101 best websites for writers.” “Conversations with Stephen King.” “Your publishing survival guide.” Hmph. Sounds like a generic hobby magazine. The stories could’ve been “Model train track layout explained.” Or “How to climb that steep hill with your dirt bike.” Or “Raising chickens for fun and profit.”
Now I will warn you that publishers indeed do populate the magazine’s advertisements. Rather thoroughly. And to be perfectly frank, I think lots of these “assisted self publishing” schemes are either scams or at least are certainly ways to help you part with your money, probably to no avail. And, the tone of the magazine is relentlessly positive: keep trying, trying, trying and you will be published. I’ve already posted on what I think of that little piece of fiction. (See Your Odds of Finding a Publisher.) So, as you smile your way through Writer’s Digest and pick up great (if basic) tips that’ll help you get started and keep you motivated, just remember that writing is your hobby and your real job pays the mortgage (and always will).
When I decided to “self publish” the Broom series, I pored through the ads in Writer’s Digest and tore out ads from several likely publishers. I found, with only one exception, that they follow the standard business plan of at least $1,000, but more often closer to $2,000, to “set up” your book. Then, after paying that up-front fee, you could then pay “only” $10 to $15 dollars per copy to get your book and then marketing was up to you. Needless to say, this is a great way to spend lots of money. I decided I could do better. I made a list of the services available for that $2K “setup fee” and found I could do all of them myself for a fraction of the price. And…here’s the best part…the last ad, the one that wasn’t for one of these “self-publishing” houses, was for a printer. A real, live, honest-to-goodness printer. I found I could get my Broom books printed for about $4/copy. And with that I found a way to self-publish Broom with a minimum of investment. And…having done that…I found myself in a position to help others. I offer web fulfillment for local authors— (see Extended Catalog); something they find hard and I find easy. And, for a small number of carefully chosen projects, I’ve helped some local authors become published (see Our Catalog). The Railroad Book is particularly popular.
Anyway, I’m not writing here to complain about those who would prey on unsuspecting authors, but rather to say you have a choice of magazines. If you’re miserable and like the company of miserable people, subscribe to Poets & Writers. If, however, you want to be inspired and are somewhat immune to the blandishments of those who would take your money and not help you all that much, try Writer’s Digest. I’m sure there are other magazines out there for aspiring writers—please leave a comment with a link to your favorite magazine!