Who is your audience? Do you write pieces with a focus on the people who will be reading the piece or the editor who will review and approve the piece? Do you write just to hear yourself talk, covering topics and issues you want to learn more about or is it a combination of all three?
I ask because I have found myself on the three sides of the issue. I’ve written on things that I found interesting and figured if I wondered about the subject, other people probably did as well. Sometimes it worked out well and I received great feedback and other times I missed the mark with editors or readers asking the dreadful – “So what?”
As an editor, I’ve found sometimes not only do writers miss the mark on a query or an article, they completely blow past my audience toward another publication’s audience or worse a “general audience.” And as a reader, I’ve picked up my favorite mags or visited a favorite web site and wondered “Why in the world is this article here?” You know what it’s like, you read something and immediately say “Well they’re not talking to me! This is the type of article you’d see in (insert competing, less than ideal mag here).”
Nothing will earn you a kill fee or “WTF” comment faster than ignoring the publication’s audience. Your pitch may have been perfect, but between the pitch and the completed article there is plenty of room to stray into the dark world of “off message.”
To keep your work interesting, you should absolutely explore things that interest and excite you and while I’d never encourage you to presume to know more than an editor on what readers would be interested in, trying to stretch and bring something new or unexpected to a publication can be a good thing, the key is balance.
If a topic is not one traditionally covered in a publication, it’s important to find an angle that brings it back to the core audience. Fly fishing is not something you’d typically read about in Vogue, but if you had angled it toward the super luxurious camping experiences that were all the rage a few summers ago, you might have had a piece, especially if you could line up celebrity used services.
Make sure you always think of your audience. When you write pieces that touch people or encourage them to comment or send a letter to the editor, you solidify your work in an editor’s mind. Not a bad thing at all.