My Love-Hate (Mostly Hate) Relationship With “Writer’s Digest” (Insecure Writer’s Support Group)

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, so you know what that means: it’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group!

This Blogging Things Works Wonders! (Insecure Writer's Support Group)

I admit to having a love-hate relationship with Writer’s Digest. Mostly hate. About 67% hate. Writer’s Digest makes me deeply insecure as a writer, because their advice drives me insane. Their advice isn’t terrible nor completely wrong. I just find it well-intentioned but misplaced, and as William Blake once wrote, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Or something like that.  Also, Writer’s Digest is lightweight in comparison to, say, Poets & Writers, or Chuck Wendig.

photo (3)Now, I will give Writer’s Digest the massive credit where credit is due. It is the publication behind my publishing bible, the Writer’s Market Annual Edition. As you can see from the photo to the left, my copy’s got some serious wear on it. It’s been highlighted and yellow-flagged all to hell, and when the time comes, I’ll know exactly who to contact, and how. The Writer’s Market is essential for all writers, lest you prefer to go about this all in the dark.

But if you’re a reader of Writer’s Digest, then you’ve no doubt been frustrated at times with either the annoying fluff pieces they publish. Every author spotlight is exactly the same: Hey, you too can make all your writing dreams come true! Honestly, the author interview they posted in the current issue, featuring Emily Giffin (“the new Jane Austen”…seriously…BARF!) was so trite and contrived, it was embarrassing. I’ve read better interviews. Shit, I’ve written better interviews.

Crap interviews aside, that’s not my beef with Writer’s Digest. Sometimes their advice is spot on. Recently I read a fascinating think piece about why outlines can be more detrimental to the writing process than we’ve been led to believe. The more I read it, the more I was inclined to agree. Hence my loving Writer’s Digest 32% of the time.

Some of the advice Writer’s Digest dispenses is just so wrong-headed, it makes my bullshit meter go off the charts.

Take this piece of advice: “If you’re trying to woo an agent or publisher, you may be asking
yourself, ‘How much is enough? How many Twitter followers is enough? How many page views should my blog have?’ And so on.” According to the writer of this piece, if you’re a non-fiction writer, aim for about 50,000 – 100,000 blog page views per month, and 15,000 – 50,000 Twitter followers.

This to me seems like the kind of advice that could only be useful to someone like Malcolm Gladwell or Jon Krakauer. For me, this advice is not only useless, it smacks of bullshit. It smacks of someone more concerned with their author platform (and, believe me, I’m a very strong advocate for a solid author platform, provided you’ve got something to back that platform up with, like, say, some decent writing chops) than with any real writing advice. And that’s the kind of useless trivia that sums up Writers Digest for me.

So you’re probably wondering, “Hey, Gus, if you dislike Writer’s Digest so much, then why the hell are you reading it every month?” Excellent question, and what an astute observation. I have two answers to your question. One, me hating on things is like a spectator sport. Like Hunter S. Thompson said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” What’s the sense in hating on something from afar, when you can hate on it, even at a 67% clip, from up close. And, speaking of buying, the second answer to this question has to do with Fab.

Yeah, Fab. Everyday design products at great discount prices. And that included a discounted one-year subscription to Writer’s Digest. My wife pointed this out to me. Why not, I thought. $15 for a one-year subscription? I could blow $15 on worse things.

I’m already regretting the purchase.

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38 thoughts on “My Love-Hate (Mostly Hate) Relationship With “Writer’s Digest” (Insecure Writer’s Support Group)

  1. “50,000 – 100,000 blog page views per month, and 15,000 – 50,000 Twitter followers.”

    Funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. Hell, I’m not even sure Joe Konrath has either of those kinds of figures.

    In fact, I’m not even sure a John Grisham or Lee Child has those kinds of numbers.

    • Two quick follow ups… (Hit “post” too fast…)

      First, you ever think about being a critic/reviewer? You straight took a ball bat to Writer’s Digest.

      Second, Lee Child has 17,720 followers. Just checked. (Which further probably means the author of that article himself/herself probably didn’t even have the stats they were promoting, which were clearly off the chart and unreasonable.)

      • 1. Yeah, I have, but the pay sucks. Still, I love writing a good review. I love writing a bad review even more.

        2. The guy who wrote this article, Chuck Sambuchino, has 11,000 Twitter followers. I have no idea how many blog hits he gets, but something tells me he’s probably got Chrome and Firefox and Safari open and refreshing his blog site pretty often, just to pad his numbers. #STATWHORE.

  2. This reminds me of a blog post I wrote a while back on “How To Self-Publish” books. It’s the same basic concept, bright and cheerful and full of advice like, “Don’t be discouraged if you’re only selling five hundred copies a month the first few months after you launch a title!”

    Evidently if you’re not cranking out four or five vampire romances a year you’re doing it wrong. And if you’re not independently wealthy enough to spend all day on Facebook, you shouldn’t even bother.

    • WD is full of empty advice. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so pathetic. I liken WD to the advice you get on how to act like a writer, but precious little useful advice on the nuts and bolts on how to improve your craft, the way other outlets like Poets & Writers does on a far more consistent basis.

      WD is more concerned with image rather than output, and that infuriates me.

  3. I was just talking about that stats article the other day…couldn’t remember where I read it or who wrote it, but … thanks for the refresher. ‘Tis bullshit, but bullshit that is telling people that you’re not worth a damn unless you have China following you. Then again, maybe I say that because I only have one follower, and that’s my mom.

    One of my biggest pet peeves with WD is the contests. Granted, this was my fault, I mean, I knew that the contest was coming up, but for the Short Short, I threw in a story at the last minute. They had sent a reminder, so I grabbed one…gave it a quick once-over…and submitted it by the Nov. 15 deadline. Then, damn if they didn’t extend the deadline for a month (to get more entries and more money). I could’ve used that month to fix it up. It would be different if entry into the contest were free, but not when it costs. They should have given the option to those who FOLLOWED THE RULES to get our money and stories back. And it happens ALL the time, except for the one time that I count on it to happen.

    And some of these gurus…how did they get where they are? Laughafuckingble.

    • What the stats article tells me is that talent really takes a back seat to relentless self-promotion. Nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re in the self-publishing business, but if you’re primarily concerned with your brand and image, rather than your output, eventually you’re going to get found out for the fraud you are. And that’s the kind of advice WD gives: fake it until you make it.

      I ignore WD’s contests. Go with Poets & Writers (pw.org) or Duotrope for better contest listings.

      • Thanks…I just recently subscribed to P&W…letting the WD subscription run its course. Yes, that fake it advice…okay, it’s good if you can actually write and are building an image so that people will at least know you when your book comes out, but if the writing talent isn’t there, one can fake it all they want and it won’t make a damn bit of difference.

        Ugh…lately I’ve felt very low about my own talent. Striking out isn’t making me feel any better, not like I thought it would. Damn.

  4. I used to read and abide by such nonsense … alas I have moved on to taking advice from the uneducated and inexperienced critics of the world … it’s easier to follow 🙂

  5. I find something useful in an issue about once every three months. Last month they had a pretty cool section about e-publishing savvy, but this month it was utter dreck. NEver gave PW a chance, but I might with your recommendation. Are they more poetry or prose based?

    • PW is more prose based, but their focus is more on the details of writing – the what, the why, the how – rather than puff pieces on writers that serve no real purpose. In fact, I’d say some of the author interviews I’ve read are pretty eye-opening and brutally frank. Their website should give you a better idea of how they roll, rather than how meagerly I’m describing it. But I really love P&W far more than any other lit mag I’ve ever read.

  6. Absolutely true (IMHO) and I laughed until I stopped. To extend the concept, books I have purchased for WD (more than I want to admit or that will fit on two, not shelves) also offer cutting edge advice to struggling writers, such as, “Start a blog,” or, “Join a local writer’s group.” They don’t go into how either of these two obvious endeavors can be done in a productive way.

    All I said was, “Turn left at the oak tree. That minefield you traipsed into had nothing to do with anything I said.” You blow off a limb, it’s your own fault, man.

    As for insecurity among writers – not only does it go without saying, I am pretty sure it is a prerequisite.

    Great article.

  7. But don’t people love vague wishy-washy advice that’s generic enough to apply to all? Every motivational book is based on that principal. I signed up with WD expecting very academic articles, but so far I’ve not been overly impressed. I was considering paying for the video tutorials, but don’t think I’ll bother.

  8. Pingback: Blogs you should follow, if you’re so inclined | Write on the World

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  10. I don’t subscribe, but I am on their email list. Not only are they constantly trying to sell me something, but every message I get from them comes with a note just below the subject line that reads: “This message has no content.”

    At least they know.

    As far as paying for contests go, I have done it for Glimmer Train. Once I did make the “Top 25” list. Whether this was worth the $15 bucks…I don’t know. But winning a contest like that gets you $1,500, and I know they pay out a lot to new writers every year. I think it really depends on whether most (or all) of the contest money is going back into the hands of writers, rather than lining someone’s pockets.

  11. yeah, lol. Like, I left this on their critiquing forum as a lark, and they completely missed the point of minimalism. Or I’m a crank. I always leave that site in a bad mood- must be the water there.

    (Doctor Who fanfiction excerpt, Plaza Sweetie)

    The Doctor cringed and clutched the bowl of Jack’s toilet again as a new round of cramps rolled through his guts.
    “Honey, are you in there?” Jack was obviously getting thicker with age.
    “Pudding Brain!” the Doctor croaked, gritting his teeth tightly shut as another cramp bent his insides into pretzels.
    “I know, honey. Just hold on and we’ll get Martha or an Ood or somebody.”
    “Oh my god, is he?” Clara’s voice sounded strangled, as if she were holding back a laugh.
    “Shut up, you! I’m not deaf! That’s the last time I let you talk me into eating at that damn… oh god you mentioned food. Bleargh!”
    “I didn’t say it Doctor, you did!”
    “BLEARGH!”
    “Doctor, you’re being rude when all I asked was…” Yes, Clara’s voice was definitely closer. She was standing in Jack’s bedroom now, stalking him. He was sure of it.
    “B-L-E-A-R-G-H!”
    “Who let her in here?” Jack asked, incensed as he balanced a clean towel and a bottle of water on his hip while reaching for the door to his bathroom. He looked at Clara and sighed, then pointed a sharp finger at his bedroom door, hoping against hope the annoying brat would actually leave.
    “Doctor, sweetheart, are you sure she’s not the Master?” he breathed through the crack.
    In the bathroom, the sound of shuffling, a bit of ruffling, a muffled moan and then, “Ah, Jack? What’s the smallest thing you’ve ever kissed?”

    (there are some adjustments I am considering keeping, but… hrm.) they said they couldn’t tell who was speaking. But they just weren’t paying attention, in my book. What, did half the population drink Obviousman’s water or something? Not trying ot be a tool here, just chiming in about the inexplicable oddness of recent ‘error’ finding among the general writing populace. No context? No problem!

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