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About Writing Right: The Blog


A guy named Mike with a really cool pair of shades asked on the Internet the other day why stories in magazines differ from the same stories when they're published in books. Since no one else seemed able to cover this one, I dove right in.

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Hey, Mike, I can answer this one for you. As a former book, magazine, and newspaper editor, I have the response down pat. Besides, it's my pleasure to help out anyone with such cool shades!


There are a couple of reasons magazine versions of a story differ from what may eventually appear in books. The first and most obvious reason is that different editors working for different publishers in different media exert their influences on the work in different ways. One editor might concentrate on focusing the story more sharply while the other might be more concerned with cleaning up grammar and sharpening the rhetoric. As for the author's input, unless he's a world-famous proven moneymaking scribe, his or her material is going to undergo editing. Period. That's a standard clause in every  magazine, newspaper, and book publisher's contract, even if it's only understood rather than written in stone.


That's one reason. The second reason stories may differ is for the sake of brevity. While books can publish stories that are tens of thousands of words long or more, magazines can't. To understand why, think of the magazine's goals in life: To increase readership; to make money, and to entertain the readers. Let's examine the three.


To increase readership, a magazine has to provide meaningful, targeted, or entertaining information to their readership or reading audience. They're the people who subscribe to the magazine (the bulk of them, anyway, although there are always some off-the-rack sales), and they're the ones who create a magazine's circulation. Circulation means the number of magazines sold each month. Provide meaningful content for the readers, and circulation is likely to grow. Articles and stories that go on interminably (think the New Yorker here) eat up "real estate." In order to appeal to the widest range of people, magazines need to publish a variety of articles--the more the merrier! Growing a magazine's circulation is paramount to the next reason magazine versions of articles often differ from book versions.


To make money, a magazine has to sell advertising. Oh, sure, they make a few bucks from subscription and rack sales to their readers, too. But the vast bulk of their revenue comes from advertisers. But, magazines don't get to pocket all that income from GMC and Max Factor every month. They have expenses to pay, beginning with employee salaries and other overhead and extending all the way to paper, printing, and distribution costs. If a magazine has a combined income from circulation and advertising of $10,000 one month and expenditures of $50,000 for publishing a 48-page magazine, it won't be in business for long. Considering that there's little the magazine can do to increase revenue for that month, it has to do the only other thing possible to avoid losing money: cut the number of that month's magazine pages (and, thus, its expenses). Instead of running 48 pages, it may need to cut down to 32 pages or fewer. The fewer the pages a magazine runs, the less its production costs are that month. It's simple math. It's how magazines (and newspapers and Websites and damned near everyone else) stay in business. But, fewer pages in any given month means less space available for editorial content—and, most likely, tighter editing and more cutting of the existing articles to squeeze them in. That means a 20,000-word story may need to be cut down to 15,000. That's not the case with book publishers, whose sole income comes from the number of books sold, not advertising. And, that brings us to reason number three.


To entertain its readers means a magazine will continue to grow in circulation by providing content that its readership wants or demands. And increasing circulation results in increased advertising rates. Instead of selling a full-page ad in a magazine with a circulation of 10,000 for $15,000, it can sell that same full-page ad in a magazine with a circulation of 300,000 and rake in $450,000 per ad page sold. Advertisers buy audience reach. And, while numerous factors enter into how many people read a magazine and respond to its ads, the single most important factor is circulation. After all, an advertiser can't poll a magazine's readers to see how many of them are looking at their ads in any given month. But, he can crunch the numbers to determine which magazines are worth advertising in and which aren't, which have the best circulation-to-ad-cost ratio, and which are most likely to pay off for the advertiser.


It all comes down to a numbers game in the end. Magazines have to be far more selective and frugal in their approach to buying and running editorial content such as articles and short stories than book publishers do. As a result, magazine content is often edited for length to meet the restrictions on the number of pages the publication will be able to afford to print that month.


Get it? I thought you would. Hope this helps.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," which runs weekly at Substack. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he's only human!)

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