Column: Writing Is Often About Putting the Reader First

The idea for my first talk at the SCCA National Convention was right in my wheelhouse: how to sell sponsorships. I’ve been dealing with companies in the auto industry for decades. Easy. This would be a walk in the park.

The second talk added to the pile, one whose topic wasn’t suggested by me, caused me to gulp a bit: how to write the perfect story. 

I laughed. And my editorial staff laughed even harder. 

You see, while I do know more than a little about sponsorship, I have never professed to be a classically trained great writer.

Rewind to that weekend in Las Vegas, home of the SCCA’s annual get-together. The first question during my Q&A cut right back to our roots: When did I get my first piece accepted for publication? I sheepishly admitted the answer: the day we started this magazine. Before that, other than term papers, I hadn’t written much, never mind gotten anything published. 

I started writing (a lot) because I had the harebrained scheme to start a car magazine, and I sure as hell didn’t have the money to pay professional writers. So in those early days, I wrote a lot of it myself. (You know, I still do more writing than probably any other publisher these days.)

Still, I learned and had an incredible editor, first in my wife, Margie, and now in David and Sarah, who I still think would fire my ass if I didn’t own the place and was willing to write for free. 

And while I will readily admit that I like having a forum of sorts–through this publication and our sister title, Classic Motorsports–I don’t actually live to write. But I know the rules, and if you want to build the project cars, which I do dearly love doing, you have to write the stories.

While the seminar originally focused on the mechanics of good writing, the Q&A session went long and got more into the state of today’s print media. The people in the room were afraid that print media was going to go away. How were we doing, and what did I predict? Just in the last few months, some 20 automotive publications, including biggies like Autoweek and Automobile, have bitten the dust. This was certainly a topic worth discussing.

I certainly don’t have a crystal ball and don’t know everything, but I do know a few things. First, writing is writing, and a lot of the basics go for any medium. Find a hook and maintain a tone that’s appropriate to the audience. Don’t talk down to the reader, and don’t go above their head, either. 

Above all, put the reader first. Then everything else should fall into place. 

How do you, as the reader, return the favor? Vote with your dollars. If you renew your sub, the publications that you like will stay alive. If you forget to send in that payment or don’t think that we need the support, then we go away. It’s simple economics. 

I can see that model changing somewhat, too, and wonder if England provides a new model. Over there, a subscription to a car magazine costs nearly $100, while the ad rate is about half of ours. 

Here, obviously, it’s all about the attractive subscription price–and maintaining rate base, which is a fancy term for the number of people reading a pub. It’s why you always see sweeter and sweeter deals. 

I think we’ll eventually see a turn here, but it will take a while. As younger marketing directors come in, yes, print advertising will fade–at least temporarily. Ad revenue subsidizes most, if not all, the cost of producing most magazines. If there are fewer ads, that media outlet will either have to raise subscription prices or fade away.

Those of us who have been at this for a few years know something, though: Someone who pays for a subscription is a much more targeted customer than those who have a casual interest. So, I see print eventually becoming a more premium product featuring even more curated, targeted content. 

And this future is largely in your hands. If you want to see a publication do well, reach out to their supporters and let them know where you saw their ad. Renew your subscription. Tell your friends. Run the magazine’s sticker on your car.

Don’t worry, though. We’re doing fine and can adapt to any situation. But an automotive world without a few things to read while relaxing isn’t a world that I would relish. 

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Comments
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Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
10/1/20 1:35 p.m.

Tim take heart; many moons ago I managed to get a couple of short stories published and after getting the check I decided I wish to eat regular and moved on to something else (I'm told fiction, specifically Sci-Fi, stopping paying well around the mid 70s).

I happen to be a very good writer (not that you'd know it from some/most of my posts) and while I now use that skill doing contracts, I'm pretty sure I'd tank you're publications in about ten minutes.

You have to walk that type rope between satiating peoples appetite and always leave them wanting more. 

For the GRM & CM niche what you're doing works.

Bjorn 1349
Bjorn 1349 New Reader
10/1/20 9:44 p.m.

Guys, great work with the articles. Seriously. But a big bonus honestly, subscribing means I get to see the ads for companies making the parts I didn't know exist but I knew I wanted. Heck yea targeted and niche ads are important. I dropped a couple other mags because all the ads went to nike shoes, yoga pants and things I didn't want. The articles became safer and it lost it's feel. Stay true. If it's a hobbyist mag: Show me serious high level hobby "stuff"!

I'll pay more.

Best analogy I can think of: Heavy metal bands. Everyone knows that one guy who is super hardcore "SLAYER RULES!" and would die for the band. You almost never meet the guy who says "yeah, I was into Slayer for a summer." The first guy will buy every shirt and album. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
10/1/20 9:56 p.m.

In reply to Bjorn 1349 :

Slayer rules. \m/

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
10/2/20 8:04 a.m.
David S. Wallens said:

In reply to Bjorn 1349 :

Slayer rules. \m/

I'm sad I didn't get to see them on their final tour. One of the bands I've always loved, but never got a chance to see live.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
10/2/20 8:17 a.m.

In reply to z31maniac :

I got published a bit in various magazines but shortly after being published the magazines folded. Always worried it was me.  I did notice very little editing. Plus they were all new start ups. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
10/2/20 8:40 a.m.

In reply to z31maniac :

Killer show as always. 

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 MegaDork
10/2/20 9:21 a.m.

Can we stay on topic just this once? laugh

Or does every thread eventually devolve into a headbangers' mosh pit?

 

I love to write.  Always have.  And while a select few others have read some of my stuff, I write solely for my own amusement.

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
10/2/20 10:37 a.m.
1988RedT2 said:

Can we stay on topic just this once? laugh

Or does every thread eventually devolve into a headbangers' mosh pit?

 

I love to write.  Always have.  And while a select few others have read some of my stuff, I write solely for my own amusement.

I write for a living, but not the more enjoyable type like writing for a car magazine. It's weird because my family assumes that because I write, that means I know how to write creatively or something.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
10/2/20 10:53 a.m.

Another writing tip: Just like most anything else, practice helps. And so does reading. 

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 MegaDork
10/2/20 10:58 a.m.
z31maniac said:
1988RedT2 said:

Can we stay on topic just this once? laugh

Or does every thread eventually devolve into a headbangers' mosh pit?

 

I love to write.  Always have.  And while a select few others have read some of my stuff, I write solely for my own amusement.

I write for a living, but not the more enjoyable type like writing for a car magazine. It's weird because my family assumes that because I write, that means I know how to write creatively or something.

Kudos to you for making that work. I know it's not an easy skill to turn into a paycheck.

I've always been drawn to fiction, both as a reader and as a writer.  There's something very rewarding about inventing characters and making them do crazy E36 M3. laugh

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UberDork
10/5/20 9:27 a.m.

I'll repeat what I have been saying for some time. I think it's important to repeat this again: I always read the editorial content first. You understand us.

You have an advantage in that this is a family owned small business. You're never far removed from your audience, and it shows in the writing. In addition, I think that the editing is exemplary (and I've read a lot of periodical publications, from Smithsonian to medical journals).

Neither GRM or CM are "just another car magazine." Continuing to thrive is all the proof needed of that.

More of my personal perspective: Between reading the magazines, and participating in the forum, I've found a welcoming community.

I'm looking forward to volunteering at the 2020 Challenge so that I can contribute to the community. 
 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
10/5/20 5:52 p.m.

In reply to Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) :

Thanks for the kind words--we have a great team--and glad to hear that you're enjoying the columns. See you in Gainesville. 

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