So here’s a fictitious and slightly OTT example of something I used to do a lot, still slip up on occasionally, and see a bit in the work of new writers, especially in travel articles.
“Nicetown-on-Sea has something for everyone… Foodies will drool over the delights at Pedro’s continental deli on the High Street, but if you hate posh nosh that smells of old socks, McDonalds is open 24/7 just next door. There’s a terrific museum for art lovers too, but if you want somewhere to amuse the kids, how about the fifty-hole crazy golf course? Or if you’re down for a weekend stag do, head to Venus’s Nightclub where the bouncers are mean and the dancers are … ”
And that’s enough of that. But you get my drift. Trying to offer something for everyone is a kind intention – yet the problem is that not ‘everyone’ is reading. And it’s not that the articles I see are necessarily poor – far from it. They’re often energetic and enthusiastic – ideal style for a travel piece. But in trying to convey their passion about a place, writers sometimes lose sight of whom they’re addressing. Easily, easily done.
So who is reading? Male or female? Parent or grandparent – or neither? Working class or middle? Outgoing or reserved? Single or partnered? While there are a few publications with a broad, mixed readership, most have a firm idea who their ‘typical’ customer is. And if the feature content can’t precisely tell you, the ads certainly will. Country retreats or Club 18-30? Junk food or diet food? Stair-lifts or face-lifts?
This blog is aimed at those just starting out in non-fiction and writing for magazines, especially those doing correspondence courses in their spare time. But I hope fiction writers and journalists, for instance, may occasionally drop by and leave a comment or pick up something useful too. While I would never want to alienate or exclude the latter group, I still want to address the former.
Apply a similar strategy when composing an article. While remaining aware of others who may be out there, make the typical reader feel as if you’re talking directly to them, not a wide and mixed audience. Imagine them peering over your shoulder occasionally when you write. If that’s too off-putting, take a few minutes to have a final read-through through his or her eyes. Become them. Demand that every line you’ve written be relevant to ‘you’. If not, adjust. Simple.
I've been reading lots of short stories lately, just to get a feel for the kind of thing editors are looking for, and I've seen how some writers can completely change their style and content depending upon which magazine they're targeting.
It's clear they've done their research, adverts and all.