| Internet Prose 101
Writing for Webzines
Restructuring Legacy Documents for Multiple Re-Use
Object Orientation to Improve Documentation
Wannabe a Technical Writer?
For technical writers who want to branch out to electronic
journalism. The webzines offer some factual advice in a style we are accustomed
to--neutral, condensed, objective. But what they really pay for are personal,
intimate, even irrational pieces that put your style in the reader's face, and show off at
least as much as they inform. So if you want an alternative to drag prose, get on
your most flamboyant outfit, and take this half-day workshop.
- A survey of the top six economic models for webzines.
- How to query an editor with email, draft a proposal, and negotiate terms.
- How to adapt your style so you, too, can be flamboyant, or at least, entertaining.
The Web offers a second universe for writers. Web publications have opened up just as
the paper markets have shrunk for journalists, humorists, essayists, fictioneers, and yes,
freelancing technical communicators. Webzines appear at a time when pay rates for magazine
articles and books have begun to mirror the economys split into poor and rich, with
fewer lucrative contracts in the middle. But now the opportunity exists for a writer to
make a middle-class living on the Web.
If you are interested in expanding beyond the world of regular magazines, listen in, as
we tell you what Webzine editors are looking for. We are speaking from years of experience
writing for paper magazines such as Esquire, Harpers, Readers Digest, TV
Guide, and a year or so as co-editors for a webzine called Thunderbeam, aimed at
parents who want to pick the best software for their kids. We say: any professional writer
should be able to make real money writing for the Web. And beginners can at least get
their work published in a Webzine, for enough money to cover their Internet connections.
The Web is Growing Fast
47 million Americanshalf the computer users in Americanow use
the Internet, the World Wide Web, or both. Business Week says, "Thats
double the number of folks on the Web a year ago." (April 24, 1997). 12% of the adult
population also use online services such as America Online and Microsoft Network, which
rely on the network of networks known as the Internet, and act as gateways to the Web. To
exchange electronic mail, people rely on the underlying network, the Internet; for
pictures, sound, video, chat, and information, people turn overwhelmingly to the
multimedia side of the Internet, called the World Wide Web.
These onliners are comparatively well off. 42% have household incomes over $50,000,
with only 18% having less than $25,000 (and the majority of those folks are students,
using their university networks to jump into the Web). Women make up 41% of the audience;
45% of the cybervisitors are over 40, with 40 year-olds making up a little more than a
quarter of the total Web population.
The top three reasons people give for using the Web are to locate information (82% of
respondents), to further their education (75%), and to get news (68%). Thats great
news for writers, because someone has to prepare all that information pouring out over the
The Web is a Market for Writers
For writers, exploring the Web is like discovering a parallel universe. The
familiar landmarks such as print magazines, newspapers, bookstores, and book publishers
are replicating themselves on Web sites, and, increasingly, these Web editions are buying
additional material written specifically for Web delivery. Microsoft and America Online
are heavily funding new online magazines and text-rich sites. Other start-ups, backed by
excited venture capitalists, are creating brand-new web-only magazines, many of which are
already earning large advertising dollars. These profitable operations are trailed by
thousands of cash-poor but attitude-rich e-zines. Altogether, this proliferation of
markets, some mirroring their print cousins, some entirely new, means that for writers the
Web has reached critical mass. Heres a quick tour of the Web as a writers
Print magazines (or their corporate conglomerates) now mirror their contents online,
adding extra Web-only commissioned materials.
- Glamour, Mademoiselle, Details, and GQ funnel pieces into Swoon, and
the editors add their own assignments, such as an investigation into the reasons for a
slight decline in teen sex, and philosophic laments such as "Whither lust?"
Web-only columnists discuss make-out music, horoscopes, and the etiquette of handling a
boorish guest who bogarts a joint instead of passing it along. CondéNet (who makes up
these names?) uses seven editors, ten contributing writers, and numerous freelancers.
- Time-Warner pulled together its print magazines and used them as the basis for the
Pathfinder site, a wannabe competitor of America Online that offers email, content, and
access to the Web. Started in 1995, Pathfinder supplements the outtakes from Entertainment
Weekly, Fortune, Money, People, Time, Travel, Southern Living, and Sports
Illustrated with columns commissioned just for the site, chats with authors, hot links
to "partner" sites, and fresh material arranged in channels on topics such as
Personalities, Money and Business, Sports, Entertainment, Net Culture, and Living.
- Hearsts entry in the conglom-o-magazine site competition is HomeArts, which
starts with clips from Bob Vilas American Home, Cosmopolitan, Country Living,
Country Living Gardener, Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful, Marie Claire, Popular
Mechanics, Redbook, and Town and Country. The editors then add specials such as
their virtual wine shop, daily tips, member chats, organized around channels such as
KissNet, Family Time, and Planet Lunch. HomeArts grossed $1.6 million in ads this
year, and will double the market for freelancers next year, because the editors want to
put up half a dozen "extra" pieces a day.
- Rodales Prevention, the nations largest health magazine, teamed with
Wire Networks to put up a site called Healthy Ideas, taking some articles from
print, and adding others.
- Some fragile print magazines like Omni, Progressive Architecture, bOING bOING,
and Millenium Science Fiction just shut down their print operations and set up
online, saving all those print and distribution costs.
- High-tech CIO Magazine spun off a print sister, WebMaster, and naturally
generated a site with the same name, adding short articles, portraits of netrepreneurs,
case studies of intranets, and columns not available in print, thanks to 15 editors, 5
staff writers, and freelancers.
- HotWired, the spinoff of the excruciatingly up-to-date Wired, acts like as
the newswire of the Web, offers plenty of useful info about Web tools, links to many of
the best sites on the Web, geek advice. Lots of openings for writers, but only if they
have spent a year or so totally immersed in issues like spiders, agents, and push
indexing. HotWired has also partnered with other zines to provide the latest news
on a 24/7/365 basis.
Accompanying these new markets for writers are sites that simply re-purpose material
already bought and paid for. Led by the San Jose Mercury, the Wall Street
Journal, and the New York Times, newspapers are beginning to see their Web
sites as significant sources of revenues, and, in some cases, their salvation. Book
publishers are, slowly, slowly, creating Web sites, and allowing customers to buy online.
Similarly, a few new online super-bookstores are challenging each other, with deeper
discounts than they ever offered at retail outlets. Three-year-old Amazon.com recently
went public for an Initial Public Offering of $62 million, after revenues of $64 million
last quarter. Barnes & Noble just launched its Web operation and sued Amazon for
claiming that it is the "Earths biggest bookstore."
So all the old markets are reappearing, in some form, on the Web. The literary world is
reemerging from the Net mists, and its double is growing, quite rapidly, on the Web. The
sites that dont buy new material (newspapers, book publishers, bookstores) lend
credibility to those that do, including all these old-line magazines that now need new
materials from writers, just for their Web sites.
In addition, hosts like America Online and Microsoft Network are funding the creation
of hundreds of new sites that combine traditional feature articles with columns, chat
areas, bulletin boards, databases, and downloadable files. In order to provide content
that will attract millions of visitors a day, these two giants, along with smaller fry
like CompuServe, contract out a lot of writing.
- America Online, with revenues of $456 million last quarter, has spent liberally to
secure and retain its 8 million members, who dial in from computers to exchange email,
chat with other users, read hundreds of thousands of articles, download software, buy
online. Interactive Week reports that the company has spent $600,000 a day on
marketing over the last three years, building a presence as the leader of the online
world; they have also spent liberally to invest in sites within the site, devoted to
topics AOL thinks people want to explore, from weddings to pets, small business, and
travel. They have so many sites they have had to organize them in channels, like cable TV;
any one channel may offer hundreds of "programs," each of which includes new
material every day or week. Someone has to write all this stuff! Jesse Kornbluth, a former
feature writer for Vanity Fair and New York has just been named Editorial
Director of Channel Programming to set an "editorial voice and style" and
develop new content, which he calls "writing" because "when you talk about
writing, youre already talking about a standard of quality." (In addition, AOL
regularly cuts deals with traditional print magazines like the Smithsonian and National
Geographic to put up their articles, along with extras such as chats between students
using those articles, educational materials, teacher-to-teacher conferencing, and links to
- The Microsoft Network, a smaller and more frantic imitation of America Online, offers
plenty of magazines made up just for the Web. For instance, Mungo Park, a travel
magazine focusing on far-out adventures (not your highschool visit to Washington, D.C),
grabs popular writers like Barry Lopez, Tom Robbins, Tom Clancy, Tama Janowitz, and Jean
Auel for treks, talks, and expeditions in the tradition of their namesake, an explorer who
never came back from the upper Nile. Six editors team up with six contributing editors,
and a lot of freelancers, artists, audio and video producers, to make getting there
virtually fun. Of course, if you want to sign up for a trip, Mungo Park turns out
to link directly to Expedia, Microsofts online travel agency.
- The most famous of Microsofts magazines, Slate, began as an independent
under Michael Kinsley, but has moved into some rewardingly ambiguous relationship with
Microsofts other Web properties (Microsoft Network, MSNBC, and Internet Explorer).
That liaison has helped increase readership of a zine that still smells very East Coast,
even though its edited at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, WA. With a nice sense
of conflict honed in his years on the firing line of TV, Kinsley sets up debates between
experts, encourages readers to attack and counterattack, and provides a lot of political
sniping that comes from insiders on both sides of the aisle. His staffers review print
magazines the moment they appear; his contributing editors handle movies, sports, TV
commercials and shows, books, and fashion. Freelancers check in with humor, diaries,
poetry, and oddball travel. With a dozen editors (including the Fraymistress), and 20
contributing editors, Slate is a major new publication, drawing many writers out of
the print worlds, and establishing a tone and approach for the upscale zines, all of which
like to say, "Were not the New Yorker."
Independent entrepreneurs receive venture capital from these giants, then subcontract
with many writers, designers, and programmers to create new content for delivery in these
electronic magazines, or Webzines.
Some entrepreneurs just set up their own Websites, with new content as the draw for
visitors, and visitors as the light attracting the advertising moths.
- Started in 1992 with $7 million in venture capital, Wire Networks has created a Webzine
called Womens Wire, aimed at well-educated, well-heeled women online. With
500,000 visitors a month, this site drew $1 million in 1996, taking 31st place in the Web
ad sweepstakes, according to Jupiter Communications. (They report a total of $300 million
spent on advertising on the Web last year, growing to an estimated $5 billion in the year
2,000). With 35 full-time staffers, 22 regular contributors, and many freelancers, Womens
Wire has become stable enough to expand. CEO Marleen McDaniel says, "Were
doing as much as we can to extend our content offerings because we need to add more
- Charged aims at the folks who participate in high-intensity sports and asks for
writers to make story pitches via email, using their own "elitist hipster
- Urban Desires aims at the young, urban, but not terribly techno-hip, with
tough-talking gossip, out-of-focus pictures of fire escapes in New York, and lyrical
memoirs of Brazils 400-year-old city, Bahia. Worldly, fun, this zine resembles its
print cousins in its focus on books, music, travel, and sex; the focus is on voice, not
- Salon, the snooty zine put out by the former editor of the already pretentious Image
magazine, from the San Francisco Examiner, has attracted good writers, with lots of
short opinionated pieces on books, music, politics, and food. Editor Talbot says he wants
"writers who can bleed," and hes found a dozen regulars, including James
Carville, Anne Lamott, Jon Carroll, Camille Paglia, and David Horowitz. TableTalk draws in
the readers to attack each other on issues raised in the articles. 80% of these readers
are college educated and they average $67,000 a year in income; in one month, they look at
1.8 million different pages on the site, and take their time doing it: the typical visitor
spends 20 minutes at the site, a long stay for any web site. A leisurely read, in Net
terms, but with plenty of openings for new freelance writers with an attitude.
In addition to these mega-financed zines, we see venture capitalists funding excellent
zines such as Feed, Suck, and Word, and others on topics such as adventure
travel, extreme sports, and old folks.
And, lower down, in a samizdat culture made possible by the ease of mounting your own
Web site, thousands of self-publishing moguls have started their own e-zines. (The most
comprehensive list weve seen has 3,000). Like poetry magazines, these zines succeed
on personal style and taste, and like Xeroxed zines of the 80s they vary in quality
from mediocre to paranoid, but, overall, they offer a fantastic chance for beginning
writers to get published, chat with other writers, and find a home.
So theres room out on the Web for beginners to get started, and for professionals
to expand their range beyond print publications.
(Please note: This material is already out of date, but it can give you an idea of the
market as it was early in 1998).