Since I've gotten hooked on the UK's writer trade magazine Writers' Forum I grabbed the August issue when I stopped by BAM yesterday. As it's also been some time since I test drove the U.S. writing trades I also picked up copies of the July/August issue of Poets & Writers; the July issue of The Writer to do some comparisons.
At 128 pages Poets & Writers seems a bit heftier this month, but I noticed there were far fewer contest, residency and market listings in the back, which has always been the primary draw for me. Of the content, I liked Dark Room Redux, a short piece on the origins of a twenty-five-year-old society of poets and writers of color, (online for free reading here); Network by Jami Attenberg, a primer on how to use Tumblr blogs to connect with readers (online for free reading here); and Practical Poetry by Margaret Wolfson, one of the best articles I've read in a long time that explains the creative roots of many well-known name brands, and offers some intuitive observations on why the brands were such excellent marketing tools.
I appreciate that P&W makes some articles and much of their market info available online for free reading, but I'd still like to see more of the "My Journey/Struggle/Pain" -type content trimmed and replaced by info that is actually useful to writers working in the lit end of the market.
The Writer continues to shrink; at 50 pages it was the real lightweight of the trio. This volume, which is touted as the "How-to" issue, had only three pieces I felt were worth the trouble of reading: For the mystery writers, Hallie Ephron's The Secret is in the Secrets, which offers seven tips on how to plot a page-turner, has some decent ideas; for the travel writers, Diana Tonnessen's 8 Secrets to Selling Your Travel Stories likewise has some practical tips on how to approach travel publishers. The third was Kelly James-Enger's piece on the 8 biggest mistakes e-book authors make, which identifies and offers a quick fix for common problems (and I can't comment on the value of this as I don't self-publish for profit.)
Some of the content was pretty lightweight, too, like the articles on 30 Twitter feeds and Facebook feeds to watch. Of the 8 contests listed in the market section, all required fees, and some were pretty hefty. As for the Freebies for Writers resource column, it listed only six resources, none of which are anything new, and four of the six were listed only by name. It was nice to see author Lynne Connolly credited for her rec of WordWeb; maybe next time the editors could provide the actual link to what she recommends?
As a trade useful for the working writer, Writers' Forum was the clear winner by comparison. I found three very valuable bits of market info in among the interesting items in the News section. Indie author Mike Hillier has been writing a article series to help self-pubbing writers, and this month he tackles how to format your ms. to make it readable on all e-readers (aka exactly what every aspiring indie author needs to know.)
Even the smaller pieces, like Emily Carlisle's article on online writing groups, Barbara Dynes's piece on actually starting writing (as opposed to sitting around and thinking about it), and Alison Baverstock's advice on how to handle a book launch party, were great. Sue Moorcroft also has an excellent article, The Bad Guys, which with much practicality discusses how to handle writing antagonists and unsavory characters. This is exactly the kind of content that should be in The Writer's how-to issue.
Over the years I've been so frustrated with the trades that I've considered starting up a writers' trade online of my own in order to publish the sort of information I want to see out there for working writers. Earlier today I seriously mulled it over again, and then I realized something. Last year I re-registered Paperback Writer as an electronic serial periodical with the Library of Congress. I've never thought about it before, but this blog is my writers' trade, one I've been writing for going on eight years now. So instead of subscribing to the others, or complaining about their content, I'm going to put more energy into writing up articles, checking out how-tos, and finding as many decent no- or low-cost resources as I can for the writers who stop in here. Thus this will be my last gripe about the trades.