Marketing and Pricing Woodturning Skills
Writing for magazinesIt may not be readily apparent that marketing principles (as set out in Part 1 of this document) can be applied to articles on woodturning. But a brief account of the steps that a writer, such as myself, must take to get an article published will show that this is so.
When I have an idea for an article (ie, a product) I think I could sell the first thing I have to do is consider which magazines might take it and the type of articles they publish (ie, I have to research the market). These will be either general woodworking magazines or those specialising in woodturning. I will probably direct my attention at magazines in the UK but I should not forget those elsewhere in the English speaking world. Then I have to decide which part (or segment) of that market I should focus on. Having picked a magazine in which I will try to place the article I have to ensure that my article will be different to those it has published in the recent past (ie, a unique selling opportunity). Having done that I can approach the editor to see whether he is willing to consider my offering and how much he is willing to pay me. If he is interested, and the terms are acceptable, I can go ahead with the writing.
When writing an article I have to remember that it must capture, and hold, the reader's interest. Not only must it have an interesting subject, but it must be well crafted (designed and executed). The first person I have to impress is the editor. He is the 'gatekeeper'; if I cannot get past him then my article will never be read by its intended audience. I have to bear in mind that he is a busy man and when my article lands on his desk he will be more inclined to give it his attention if it is well 'packaged'. It needs to be neatly typed out in the required format rather then scribbled on odd scraps of paper. My submission may also include some details of my woodturning experience and previous published work. Having put it all together my next task is to decide how I will deliver it. Will I post it, use a messaging service, send it over the Internet, or deliver it by hand.
It will be seen that these steps entail the application of a number of marketing concepts such as: the nature of the product, researching the market, segmenting the market, differentiating the product by creating a unique selling proposition, pricing, packaging, promotion and delivery. It should now be apparent that an article on some aspect woodturning should be marketed in a similar way to any other product. That being so we can now look at the way this can be approached in more detail. To start with we can perform a SWOT analysis. Remember that SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Following that we can look at the market and the four P's (product, place, promotion and price) which make up the package.
Strengths and weaknessesIf you are considering writing an article your main weakness may be your inexperience of writing and the fear that it is too difficult. Writing is a skill and, like other skills, the development of proficiency requires effort and practice. Although to many people the idea of writing for a magazine may be a daunting prospect it is not so very difficult providing that the techniques described below are applied diligently. If you can write an intelligible letter to a member of your family or to a friend you should be able to manage an article. It is possible that your attempts at an essay at school may have put you off writing. Although it is a long time since I went to school I well remember struggling to put together some words on a subject I knew little about and was not interested in. But if you have an idea for an article relating to woodturning you will know a lot about your subject and probably have a passionate interest in it. That is you strength.
Opportunities and threatsYour opportunities will lie in finding some aspects of turning that have not been written about in the recent past. I say in the recent past because there is a tendency for particular subjects to be written about time and time again. Some years ago I had the opportunity to look through the bound copies of a British woodworking journal that has been in publication over many years. What struck me was the way in which each generation came up with its own slant on the same themes. I wonder how many times, and in how many ways, the turning of a bead has been described? So you have to look for a different 'angle' on a technique or a product, or a slightly different approach to something which has been done before, which you think will be of interest to the reader.
The biggest threat, or obstacle, is that writing takes time to produce. Time taken up by writing is time taken away, either from turning or from leisure activities. If it is done at times when you could be turning, or other tasks related to the business, then you have to be satisfied that it is financially worth it. If you do it at times when other jobs are not possible, in what would be leisure time, then it can be a way of augmenting your income. And, as one turner once said to me, "a professional has to get as many pay days as possible". This means that writing becomes yet another job that for which time has to be found. So unless it is something that you enjoy it could become a source of stress.
The packageAs we saw in Part 1 of these notes the Package is comprised of the four P's: place (the market), product, promotion and price. In this case the product will be dealt with not just in marketing terms but considerable attention will be given to the ways in which it is created. Promotion, too, will be handled rather differently - here I will be primarily concerned with the way in which the article is presented to the editor of the chosen magazine. In this context price needs little consideration. Some magazines have set rates for all articles; so then it is a question of take it or leave it. With others it is a matter of negotiating a rate that you feel is satisfactory. It is important, however, to establish the rate that you will receive before releasing the article for publication. When selling anything it is desirable to agree a price before parting with the goods and to establish which of the customers will give the best return. It is also necessary to ensure that the remuneration is sufficient to repay the time and effort put in.
The marketThere are at present two types of magazine that form your market: magazines that cover all types of woodworking and those that are dedicated to woodturning. It should also be borne in mind that the number of magazines being published on the Internet is steadily increasing. In the future it may be possible to obtain payment from these sources. In the meantime those turners with their own web sites may wish to include some articles. There are a number of reasons for this: 1. to make the web site more attractive; 2. to provide a service to other woodturning enthusiasts; 3. to raise the author's profile and as a form of advertising for other turning activities; 4. a combination of the above. Whether writing for magazines or for the web the techniques will be the much the same but in the following I will mostly be writing with magazine articles in mind.
Most general woodworking magazines contain at least one woodturning article per issue. These will probably cover the same range of topics as the dedicated turning magazines. Obviously, over a given period of time, an individual general magazine will publish only a fraction of the number of turning articles published by a specialist magazine. However there are more general magazines than specialist and, as a consequence, the general magazines should not be overlooked.
Since these notes are written for an English-speaking readership I think it is reasonable to assume that any articles my readers write will also be in English. So, if you are thinking of selling an article it could be aimed at a magazine anywhere in the English-speaking world. An Australian, for example, can have an article published in 'Fine Woodworking' in the USA, or an American can have one published in 'Woodturning' in the UK. Potentially, therefore, there is a large market. Another consideration is that only a few of these magazines have a readership outside of the country in which they are published. As a consequence it should be possible to sell the same article, with only minor adjustments, to more than one magazine.
The productWhen selling turnery through retailers we have to consider the needs of both the shopkeeper and the end user. Similarly, when looking at selling an article to a magazine we should consider needs of the both the editor and of the magazine reader. The editor of a successful magazine will be a busy person and will give more attention to writers who make things as easy as possible for him. Most magazines will supply author's guidelines that will set out their basic requirements. These will be considered in more detail under the heading of 'presentation' below.
Most magazines have a house style, which reflects the editor's (or the publisher's) view of the tastes and attitudes of their readers. It is desirable, but not always possible, to read a few issues of a magazine you are writing for so that, when necessary, the style of writing can be adjusted. However, because few copies of most woodworking magazines are published outside a particular region (or country) and are, therefore, not available elsewhere, it is not always possible to research the international market in any detail.
What are the needs of the readers? First of all it should be borne in mind that woodturners are, of necessity, practical people and may not be avid readers. Many of the students who have come to me for introductory lessons have said, "you can't learn turning from a book". However, magazines do sell so some turners must like reading about their activity. Nevertheless, the editor of a magazine (and therefore the writer too) will need to ensure that the articles are made as easy to read as possible. To this end the text should be kept clear and simple. It is often said, "a picture is worth a thousand words" so the article should be illustrated by well-chosen and well-produced diagrams or photographs. Graphic designers also like to use illustrations to break up the text. This not only makes the text look less formidable but also improves the appearance of the page.
Design and structureWhen writing about the product in Part 1 of these notes I assumed that the readers were accomplished woodturners. In this part I am taking the view that they are, probably, not fully confident of their ability to put together an article. Even if the reader has experience of writing it may be of interest to see how another person approaches the activity. As a consequence much of the following will be concerned with practical suggestions on how to produce a clear and well-structured piece of work. 'Well-structured' means that the text should flow from one point to another in a logical, coherent, and easily understood, manner.
When thinking about structure the most general point that can be made is that an article should have a beginning, middle, and an end. The beginning, which may only be a few words, should capture the reader's attention. The middle sets out the story you wish to tell. If it is a 'how to make it' piece it can just be a chronological description. The end, which can also be short, should tie up any loose ends, round the piece off, and come to a positive conclusion. The piece should not come to a dying fall, it should end with a 'bang not a whimper'.
When writing an 'how to do it' piece it is often a good idea to make an example on the lathe and to take copious notes, and photographs, of the procedure. It is important, when writing a piece of this kind, that no important steps in the narrative are omitted. It is also important to ensure that events are described in the correct order. I once read an article in a woodworking magazine where, towards the end the writer said, "oh, there is something I ought to have said earlier". That was very sloppy, the writer ought to have rewritten the article and put the information he had omitted in the correct place. The way to get the general structure right is to create a plan. A plan is to writing as design is to a piece of turnery. Good design and good planning both require a lot of thought. If the writer has an exceptionally good memory it may not be necessary to write it down; most people, however, will have to set it out carefully on paper.
When planning an article care needs to be taken that it will not be too long for the magazine it is intended for. If it is too long, however good it is in other respects, the editor will reject it. A quick check of some magazines I have to hand suggests that the upper limit is usually four pages per article. Occasionally five page articles will be used providing the subject matter warrants it. Sometimes it may be possible to split an article, into a series of parts to be spread over consecutive issues of a magazine. In this case, however, each part will have to be more or less self-contained so that it will stand up on its own.
The number of words for a full page of text (with no illustrations) for the magazines I mentioned above was approximately 1250. In practice the number and size of the illustrations that will accompany them will reduce the number of words employed on each page. In addition, the heading and, possibly, an editorial introduction will take up some space on the first page. Some leeway is provided by the fact that editors adjust the size of the illustrations to fit articles into a set of full pages. Occasionally they will use advertisements to fill space on a page. Taking all of this into consideration it is apparent that only a rough estimate of the number of words available for a specific article can be made, Nevertheless, it is necessary to decide on a figure to use as a guide.
When the first draft of you article has been completed you will need to know how many words you have used. If a word processor is used to produce the article it will probably have a facility for a word count, if not it will be necessary to count the words manually. As only a rough estimate is required it is unnecessary to count every word. The way to do it is to select a block of typical text, count the number of lines and the number words in the block, and then calculate the average number of words per line. This number is multiplied by the number of lines in a typical page and then by the number of pages, to give an overall figure for the article.
Creating a planOne way of producing a plan is to jot down your ideas as they come to you on a piece of paper. These jottings should be as brief as possible - just sufficient to act as a reminder. Very often just two or three words, that form a heading, will be sufficient. At this stage the mind should be allowed to roam freely. When satisfied that you have entered all your ideas on the subject you can start to rearrange them into a structure. Number your points in what seems to be the best order and then rewrite them accordingly. As this is done it may throw up further thoughts that can be incorporated. You may find that you have to go through this process a number of times before you are satisfied. Another way is to write your initial ideas on small pieces of paper. A jotter pad is ideal for this. The pieces of paper can then be set out on a table and moved around until a satisfactory arrangement is found. Then, as with the previous method, the list can be written out.
Before computers came along this was how writers, such as myself, had to go about producing a plan. Now that we have computers there are programs that enable the process to be carried out more efficiently. These programs fall into two types: outliners and mindmaps. In an outliner a series of headings and sub-headings can be produced in the following form:
And so on
And so on
The beauty of an outliner is that if a heading is dragged into a new position, all of its sub-headings are dragged with it, and the whole set of notes will be renumbered. Similarly a sub-heading and its children can be dragged to a different heading. A similar thing can be done in a word processor by highlighting and dragging headings but it is by no means as convenient as using an outliner. Word for windows has a built in outliner but I have found that even after a lot of re-configuration it is awkward to use.
In the days of DOS there was a programme called PC-Outline that was, and still is, excellent. Some years ago a Windows version of PC-Outline was produced but, apparently, this was very 'buggy'. It seems that both versions of PC-Outline are now unavailable but if a copy of the DOS version can be found (it used to be issued as shareware) it is still very useful. It will run on versions of windows prior to XP. However, although outliners are very useful a more recent development in computer programs is that of mind maps.
Mind mapsA layout of a mind map for these notes made using a computer program is shown in Diagram 1. It looks very different to an outline but works in a similar way - the heading and sub-headings can be dragged around at will. Compared with an outliner I find that a mindmap conveys a better overall impression. It also encourages non-linear thinking and the production of ideas. It may have been noticed that a mindmap is a little like arranging pieces of paper on a table, but is much more convenient. Most mind map programs for computers enable the map to be printed out in the same form as an outliner. This can be useful when writing up your notes.
A programme called eMindMaps was, for some time, provided free on the cover disks of magazines in the UK. For some reason, unknown to me, it seems to have been withdrawn. To my taste this programme had a somewhat crude presentation, but it worked very well. A similar program, which recently appeared on a cover disk, is MindGenius Home. This has a much cleaner interface than eMindMaps. It seems to work well although, as of yet, I have not used it to any extent. A free evaluation copy can be downloaded from www.mindgenius.com/. However, I have recently found a free, open source, mindmap that does everything I need. Diagram 1 was produced with it. The program can be downloaded from http://freemind.sourceforge.net/.
Diagam 1: The layout of a mind map
StyleHaving considered the structure it is necessary to think about the style of writing to adopt. Some magazines have a 'house style', a distinctive tone of voice. Some also make clear distinctions about the levels of skills of the readers. At the time of writing one magazine actually colour codes the articles on the basis of beginner, inter-mediate, and experienced. However, as a general guideline the aim should be to keep your writing clear and simple. Sentences and paragraphs should be short and there should be frequent sub-headings. The amount of detail given should depend on the assumed knowledge of the reader. Intermediate turners, for example, will not expect to be told how to turn a bead but they might, for example, need to be told how a particular work-piece should be chucked on the lathe. Generally you should write how you speak using words you would use in conversation with another turner. Having said that there are some reservations to make. Cliches, hackneyed expressions and colloquialisms, should be avoided, as these may make your prose dull, uninteresting and, possibly, irritating.
Some people, these days, think that spelling is unimportant. I doubt that your editor will take that view - he will not relish having to mark up your copy with corrections to spelling mistakes. Run your magnum opus through a spell checker but beware; make sure it is set to the region you are writing for. Is it set to English, or American English? A problem with spell checkers is that they cannot determine the meaning of words. A word may be spelt correctly but have the wrong meaning in the context is which it is used. Some obvious examples are 'here' and 'hear', and 'their' and 'there'; but there are many others.
Getting grammar and punctuation right is more difficult to achieve than correct spelling. Keeping sentences short will help. If you are worried about this ask somebody, such as a friend or relation, to read through your piece. The most important thing is to take care that the meaning is clear. If it is easy to read then the grammar and punctuation will probably be OK. The article is for turners not members of the local Literary Society!
Writer's blockSometimes you may have an idea for an article but find it difficult to get started. In some cases this may be because you have not got the subject quite clear in your mind. What I do when I have this kind of writer's block is not to try to start at the beginning but scribble down anything that comes to mind that seems relevant to the subject. Doing this I may end up with a number of disjointed pieces of text but very often this process unlocks the mental block. The pieces of scribble I have produced may not appear in the finished piece but they will have performed a useful function. I liken the process to that of an artist who makes a series of sketches before proceeding to the full-scale work.
Re-writingSpeaking for myself, I never regard the first attempt at an article as the finished product. It is just a first draft, probably the first of many drafts. I read the piece through looking for rough passages where I have not expressed myself clearly, or I might have been more elegant, and mark in the corrections. Often I go through this process a number of times until I think I have got it right. When possible I find it advantageous to put the piece to one side for a period so that I can come back to it later with fresh eyes.
Before computers re-writing was a tedious process entailing a much re-typing and quite literally 'cutting and pasting' the revised sections together. However, with a computer, once the text has been entered into a word processor the drudgery is taken out of the process and there is no excuse for not getting one's article as perfect as possible. Someone, I forget who it was, once came up with the aphorism: "Easy writing, hard reading. Hard writing, easy reading." In other words good clear writing is the result of putting in the effort. Asked to suggest three ways of ensuring a well-written article I would say: "revise, revise, revise".
PresentationHaving polished the text of your article to the best of your ability the next thing is to prepare it for submission to a magazine. If possible consult the author's notes. It is customary to type, or print out, the manuscript (or 'typescript') in double spacing with wide margins. I always put a header on every page with my name, the date, a short title, and the page number.
For the UK market the article should have a cover sheet. This should have the name and address of the author, the type of rights you are offering the publisher, the number of words, and the date. I recommend that you offer 'First British Serial Rights'. This means you will retain the copyright after it has been published in the magazine.
In some circumstances it may be useful to include with your submission a resume or CV (Curriculum Vitae) relating to your experience as a woodturner. Finally you will need a covering letter. If the article has been compiled in a word processor the publisher will appreciate having the file provided on disk. This needs to be in the appropriate format, such as a Word .doc file, an RTF file, or a simple text file (without line endings). A self-addressed, stamped, postcard can be included that acknowledges receipt of the article. The editor should appreciate that as it will save him work. If you would like to have the manuscript returned in the case of rejection, you should include stamps to cover the postage.
The assemblage of typescript, illustrations, and computer disk should be securely packaged in a strong envelope, possibly reinforced with plastic tape. It should be posted recorded delivery. Make sure you have made a secure back up on your computer and/or kept a hard copy. If you have produced the article on a typewriter I think it will be permissible to send a photocopy and to retain the original. Then, if the article is rejected, another copy can be made and submitted to a different magazine.
If at your first attempt you receive a rejection notice do not despair and do not give up. Either try another magazine or try to see how the article could be rewritten to make it more acceptable. Remember that the first of J K Rowling's Harry Potter books was rejected by a number of publishers before it was accepted by Bloomsbury. I should think she is glad she persevered.