Writers Can Learn a lot from Rachel Crow

Posted on August 14, 2012

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Spent the weekend in New Jersey with my son watching boy band sensation Big Time Rush in concert.

Don’t laugh—we had a fabulous time, and those guys know how to put on a show that will make audiences leave satisfied.

Before we got to BTR, however, we sat through two open acts—including X Factor fan favorite Rachel Crow, who was apparently bounced from the show in fifth place.

I had no idea who she was when she appeared on stage (thank goodness for the hotel’s People magazine to fill me in), and I will be honest that she had a nice voice but little stage presence. Her songs were tolerable, and she tried to connect with her audience (with some success) but as far as personality and panache, the kids dancing in the audience were more entertaining—at least to me.

And that’s when I realized she was just like a magazine writer.

You don’t need to sing like Adele to get a record contract, and you don’t need to write like Truman Capote to be published. What you need is to be the right writer of the right article in the right magazine for the right audience at the right time.

Writing articles is a lot like signing songs–there is rhythm and content and flow, and they both need to be well put together and melodic in their own way.

And they are both good only so long as other people like them.

Those people–the audience–are the main judge of success and failure. It’s a good song and you are a good singer if people sing along and dance (like Crow’s ode against bullying, “Mean Girls”) and they keep singing after they leave your show.

It’s a good piece and you are a good writer if the your editor and the audience like what you wrote from beginning to end, and ultimately publish it or recommend it to friends.

I write a lot of articles and people seem to like many of them. I try to know each audience as well as I can and value their opinion, and that of my editors, above my own.

But I recently wrote a piece for a new magazine that showed I don’t always get it right.

The story seemed fairly straight forward, but I was a bit nervous since it was a new publication for me, so I did far more interviews than I needed. When I wrote it I had enough for 3,0000 words and needed only 700. I quoted researchers several other quality sources. I submitted early and thought the editor would be pleased.

She wasn’t.

In fact, she felt the piece too long (I wrote it at 706 words but changes by the editor brought it close to 800), but also wanted more quotes to break up writing she called “a bit didactic” (boring). I also made a pair errors for which she rightfully criticized.

But the tone of our correspondence and the overall experience made me realize I was likely not the writer she wanted for her magazine—for any number of reasons–and I ended up refusing payment to honor the unwritten satisfaction guarantee of all of my work.

Do I think the article was good and the editor unreasonable?

Absolutely not.

It is her magazine and she knows her readers best. She has to be the first one satisfied or she will no doubt leave her readers equally unsatisfied.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what I think about the article any more than it matters what I think about a plucky 14-year-old brave enough to sing her heart out in front of 14,000 people.

The audience–and the editor–is always right.

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Posted in: Writing