Through the years, I've had the enjoyable opportunity to teach writing techniques in both workshop and classroom settings.
For many of the folks who attended these sessions, the ultimate goal was to see their by-line in a magazine. And, in order to help them fulfill that dream, I had to convince them of a basic fact of today's publishing industry: all magazines are not created equal.
I was reminded of that today after spending time in two very different waiting rooms. In each, the magazines had been selected with the waiting room population in mind.
The first waiting room I visited was in the office of a popular family physician. The magazines here were aimed at folks who buy clothing at K Mart, wear Timex watches and spend their evenings watching big-screen TVs.
Later in the day, I accompanied a friend to her investment firm. This second waiting room served the firm's plush offices, overlooking a busy waterfront. Here, the designer tables were tastefully arranged with magazines of the upscale variety.
The publication I read at the doctor's office was an old favorite, Family Circle. At the investment firm, I picked up a hefty magazine that seemed to shout "Hi Class!" It was called simply, Veranda.
These two very different representatives of the magazine world were perfect examples of the kind of focus dreamers have to understand on their journey from wanna-bes to published writers.
By studying such diverse magazines, a writer can learn the kinds of readers each publication aims at. And, after all, it's the reader the writer wants to reach.
Any magazine study starts with the cover.
The cover of the Family Circle issue was filled with inviting blurbs giving hints of the contents. From "Slow Cooker Suppers" and "35 Ways to be Healthier" to "Walk Off 10 Pounds" and "Instant organizing Ideas," the issue promised useful information on a wide range of subjects.
By contrast, the Veranda magazine cover was a simple but elegant photo of an inviting swimming pool in a garden setting. Only the magazine's name...Veranda in flowing script....was allowed to interrupt the classic photograph.
Inside Family Circle, the pages were filled with advertisements for such every-day products as Cesar Dog Food, Vicks NyQuil, Green Mountain Coffee and Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.
The Veranda magazine also contained many colorful advertisements. But these were a far cry from the pedestrian offerings of the less expensive publication. In the upscale Veranda, a glittering collection of gold bracelets proclaimed they were "Worth the Wrist." A spread on Cartier jewelry featured a diamond-encrusted watch. And throughout the magazine, there were numerous slick photographs of pool side settings of elegant outdoor furniture arranged for dining or conversation.
My waiting room studies today reminded me once again that for would-be writers, as well as readers who want to understand the workings of the publishing world, comparing the content of various magazines can be a real education.
And as a bonus, no matter what waiting room you find yourself in, studying the magazines can make the visits much less boring.