27 March 2011

Publications Committee Chicago Trip

A longer than usual post about a longer than usual weekend. Please bear with me. You might learn something.

I'm a member of the Publications Committee through my school's union. The committee itself hosts several on-campus publications including a literary journal, a collection of undergraduate students from abroad, my own Flash Fiction blog, and we're soon to launch an online fashion magazine for students. This past weekend, a bunch of us from various journals traveled down to Chicago to meet with professionals in the publishing industry to tell us about their craft and how they got to where they were. Here is what I learned personally on this trip. I'll conclude with my own thoughts on what this means to the blog.

Museum of Science and Industry

Is perhaps one of the funnest museums I've visited in my life. It's engaging, it's child oriented, the exhibits are interactive, there's a fricken ice cream shop somewhere inside, and the new Storm Science exhibit is awesome to walk through. We were able to get free tickets and made time to spend a few hours exploring.

Believe it or not, they need a publication team to help with internal communication and public relations. They write and produce brochures for tourists in hotels, packets for visitors, and announcements for the staff. This even extends online with the official MSI website, their Facebook page, and their Twitter page. The official site features experiments and activities to do in your own home, which is a nice way to take the museum away from Chicago. Updates on Facebook and Twitter are done by one man, who developed a certain fun-loving voice for the museum, and often updates on science-related news and reminders instead of focusing specifically on the museum itself. They even mentioned Pi Day!

They also talked about defining an audience and catering to them as opposed to just updating for the sake of updating. Their top audiences are Moms with Children and Tourists. So quite a few of their advertisements will be geared towards that audience. Knowing your audience is important because no one will read you if you don't cater to anyone.

As a blogger who doesn't regularly check her blog stats, I can honestly say that I'm not certain who reads this.I've just been blogging about things I thought were interesting because they caught my attention. But because this is a personal blog, I don't see this changing anytime soon. If you like me, then stick around, I'll be happy to have you! In terms of the Publications Committee, it means we probably might want to start catering to our audience --- the students. This is something we'll discuss in meetings and such.

Time Out Chicago

Time Out Chicago is a city-wide magazine meant to cater to residents of Chicago, so they're not going to feature things their competition are featuring. Oh no. These guys take the time to bring the quiet budding artist to the forefront. Know a Chicago-based band playing at a small bar in the middle of downtown? They're covering the show. Small-name artist having a gallery showing in a random apartment? They're already on top of it. TMC is released on a weekly basis and covers everything from food to fun.

This meeting was more personal in that all nine of us and ten people from the magazine were crammed into a conference room. We first went around the room to introduce ourselves stating the basics, majors and where we want to go, and they stated majors and how they got to TMC. It's amazing how many of them were English majors and how many of them merely fell into the journalism/reporting business. And that's how I learned that English majors do some of the best work in the business. (Go English Majors!)

They also talked about the importance of networking and getting to know people. They get thousands of applications within week, so they just keep all those resumes in a database and whenever they need someone they'll search that database for certain buzzwords. But before they do that, they're going to remember the interns that worked with them before and keep in contact. Doing that saves time for interviews and they are also more confidant in their selections because they know exactly what this person can handle. Also, less money training them. Networking is also nifty when out in the field. If you know people who know people, then you can stay on top of everything going on in the city. And that's what their business if built out of.

These guys recently saw a 20% increase in sales when other magazines dropped. They also have the best subscriber loyalty, based on the sheet they gave us with their information packet. At the moment, they're running a very successful business. And they maintain that by loving Chicago and everything it has to offer.

For me, this means blogging about current events in the publishing industry. I'll start posting my opinions (or links to what others have to say) on the latest scandals (YA Mafia, anyone?). And with all the craze about ereaders and self-publishing, you'll get my opinion soon enough. This leads me to the next person we met with.

Abraham Ritchie of ArtSlant.com

Mr. Ritchie blogs about contemporary art in Chicago. He started in Madison and worked his way around the world before settling in Chicago. He works under a woman whose website is based in Paris, and he manages a small staff of writers who also blog about contemporary art in Chicago.

Ritchie got this job because he was writing about art since college. He majored in Art History, but he enjoyed writing papers on art best. I think he started a blog somewhere, and that has helped him forward into this world of blogging. But he didn't always want to blog. Ritchie started his career attempting to get into curating, but that didn't work out so well. I asked where he saw himself in five years, and he said he didn't really know but he'd like to reform the art section of one of the Chicago newspapers. According to him, it's atrocious and really needs to improve.

Your blog can help propel you into your career. This was touched upon in TMC, but Ritchie is a prime example of that. If you apply for a position and don't really have professional writing samples, you can always pull from your blog. It's readily available information and it shows that you're passionate enough about the material to do what you like in your free time. This hits the mark on my own personal motto, which deals with doing what you like to do and not what you think you should do (a concept my old roommate struggled with last year).

And herein lies what I think will happen to the future of this blog.


We can all agree that posts thus far are few and far between. And their content isn't necessarily consistent, right? I'm not specifically a blog about the writing craft, or the fiction publishing world, or anything of importance. At the moment, I intend to focus in on a few specific things. They are:

- Film criticisms based on my own opinions and whatever is taught about in my latest film class
- literary criticisms of recently read books of mine (skills taken from literature courses and applied to contemporary fiction)
- continued posts of 100 Things to Write
- other random flash fiction I might decide to share with y'all
- current events in the publishing world
- my own writing process and my writing life

I maintain that I will not fix myself to a specific schedule. Goodness, I'm still in school and schedules bore the life out of me. Besides, it's not like I'm going to force some amazing criticisms from my brain on a regularly basis. Like creative thinking, critical thinking mustn't be forced. It must be coerced, and that always takes a few extra days beyond the deadline.

Regardless, this was a very productive trip and well worth going. If you ever get a chance to speak with someone within the publishing industry, of any sort, they'll be more than happy to answer your questions about building a following, getting from point A to point B, and really it's just nice to chat. And it doesn't matter if they don't have anything to do with creative writing (see MSI and Abraham Ritchie above), you can still learn from them.

This trip was mostly arranged by students with some help from the College of Letters and Science Career Services.


  1. I've been to the Science and Industry museum a couple of times. The first couple floors are pretty good. The top floors seemed to be a little dated, like they jammed old stuff up there.

    I think specific schedules help train the audience for when to tune in. At least with Wordpress I can schedule entries in advance so I can write a bunch at once and schedule them accordingly. I try to keep a vague theme for each day's entry too, which again if the audience pays attention I think it helps to train them for what to expect. People like safe and predictable. I mean, how annoying is it when the network moves your favorite TV show?

  2. I didn't make it that far up. We had a limiting 2 hours, but 2 hours is a long time when you break away from the group and wander on your own. I tend to not read anything as I wander museums.

    I see your point about keeping a schedule, but I'm aware of several authors who don't update on a regular basis as well -- Tamora Pierce and Patrick Rothfuss are the big names that pop into my head at the moment. Furthermore, my current lifestyle is too full of one-time-events such as this Chicago trip, current film projects, papers that should have developed a thesis last week, an approaching literary festival, and future lock-ins in random buildings. So blog posts take on a back burner and only happen when I can.

    Thank you for your input, though.


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