About.com caught up with Jessica Strawser at her one-year anniversary as editor-in-chief of Writer’s Digest. This publication has the largest circulation (110,000) of our series on writers’ magazines, and is published 8 times per year. Writer’s Digest also produces special editions throughout the year which focus on a specific aspect of the craft.
(One) Editorial Career Path
About.com: Let’s begin with your path to editor-in-chief. How long have you been with Writer’s Digest?
Jessica Strawser: I’ve been the editor-in-chief of Writer’s Digest for almost exactly a year. I also worked for the publication several years ago as an assistant and an associate editor, so this is my second time with WD.
A: And what did you do before that?
J: I was a managing editor for North Light craft books and for Memory Makers books, both here with F & W media. Before that, I worked for several years for a startup book publisher that published commercial nonfiction on various topics, both regional books and national books.
I think it’s helpful in my current position that I have a background editing books as well as magazines. I’ve also done a little bit of work in marketing and public relations as an editor with a university here in Cincinnati.
A: Are you a writer yourself?
J: I’ve done some freelance writing over the years. I’ve also done a lot of writing in the course of my job. A lot of times, if there’s a staff-written feature or a feature with no byline, that’s actually me. I do a lot of WD interviews.
A: And what kind of educational background do you have?
J: I have a degree in magazine journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.
Writer’s Digest- All About the Magazine
A: What do you feel sets Writer’s Digest apart from other major writing magazines?
J: We've been around for a long time. Our January issue is our 90th anniversary issue. We're a very established publication. There’s a history here.
Our target audience is aspiring writers, as well as working writers who have started building their writing careers, or [those who] are fully experienced in their writing careers, but are still trying to learn new avenues.
These days the industry is changing so fast that it’s hard for anyone to stay on top of exactly what’s going on. The changing needs and demands of the industry is something that we try to cover in the magazine. [We] incorporate it with the information [readers] need to be able to meet those challenges as they change.
For example, we've done some recent feature packages on innovations in self publishing, on platform building, and on what publishers are really expecting authors to have in place. In our November/ December issue, we did an article on content-aggregated websites which are very new, and are a hot topic of discussion in the writing community right now. We are trying to stay on top of issues that are prevalent to writers today and things that they are achieving right now.
At the same time, we have a heavy craft section, and sometimes our feature package will focus on craft as well. Our feature package [has] a theme, and the feature pieces will take one angle and try to look at different aspects of it, and really cover something in depth in every issue.
We always have a WD interview with a bestselling or otherwise noteworthy or successful author in every issue as well.
A: I know you have your annual writing competition and then you have several small writing competitions throughout the year. Can WD take credit for a big discovery in any of those contests?
J: We have had contest winners go on to have success in traditional publications. We've actually had quite a few over the years. I know we do have two that are pretty well-established in their writing careers now who got their leg up from winning the annual competition.
A: Tell me this about the magazine: is there a formula that helps you keep your balance between articles on fiction versus articles on freelancing versus articles on business aspects? How do you balance all the different genres?
Click through to page 2 to find out how WD balances it's content, and learn about the #1 mistake that Jessica sees in queries!