So the first week of the New York University Summer Publishing Institute (where I got in and am working my butt off and enjoying every second of it) has just ended. It is Saturday now and my brain has been so crammed with amazing information, I’m glad for the weekend to decompress a bit.

We’ve been asked not to tweet or blog about the program, specifically what we heard, because our amazing speakers are imparting insider information into their companies: revenue, circulation, business models, and knowledge about what is going to happen in the next few months before it happens. So I won’t talk about what they’ve said in that capacity but I did think I could talk about what I’ve taken away from the experience so far.

First off, this has been one of the best experiences of my life – and it’s only just begun. I am currently living in New York City. This is a lot of firsts for me. The first time I’ve lived in New York City, the first time I’ve lived on my own, the first time I’ve lived with three strangers (who are amazing, brilliant, wonderful people – I really like my roommate too), the first time I’ve had to take public transportation every day, specifically the subway, to get to class every morning. The first time I’ve needed to get up two hours earlier to prepare for class, the first time I’ve worked in a group and really enjoyed it, the first time I’ve tried to create a magazine – and everything that means – the first time I’ve walked around by myself, the first time I am responsible for only me, the first time I’ve thought I could actually live on my own.

All those firsts aside, I’ve learned a lot in the program so far. The program is divided into two sections, so that the first three weeks focuses on magazines and the second half on books. Coming in, I was a little annoyed that the part of the course I was most interested in – books – was in the second half. What could I learn from magazines? I don’t even read them. I kind of hate most of them for all the usual reasons: poor depiction of a woman’s body type, gossip about celebrities, sensationalized information. At least that’s what I used to think.

We’ve been spoken to by the editor in chief (and usually the publisher) of Conde Nast (Glamour, Allure, Self, Teen Vogue, Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Wired), The Atlantic, Newsweek (and the Daily Beast), Rodale (Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Prevention, and others), Time Inc (InStyle Essence, People, Time, Real Simple, Fortune), Hearst Corp (O Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Esquire, Elle, Seventeen, Redbook, Marie Clare, and a bunch of others), New York Magazine, and staffing HR people from some of the biggest names in publishing.

That is only the first week. We are having even more amazing speakers in the next two weeks (during the magazine section) and I haven’t even looked to see what’s coming for the book section. Me? Excited? I can hardly contain myself, I could bounce up and down.

So, I could go on and on and rave about the amazing stuff I’m learning, but I would never stop. Instead, I’m going to say just one thing that every single magazine person has said, without fail, every time they speak to us. This applies to books too… to business as a whole.

When you are creating a product or brand, when you are crafting a magazine or writing a book or marketing, editing, doing anything that involves creation, you must focus on the reader. It’s easy to know what you want to say and who needs to hear it. But the point of these constructions, the whole reason for doing this, is to know who will be your perfect reader or perfect consumer.

Have a physical picture of a person in your head. The editors of the major magazines were kind enough to tell us exactly what kind of person they pictured when they created their magazines, and they’ve been highly successful. It has changed the way I see it, even though it sounds cliche and obvious. Stop worrying about your message for one second and take a good look at who you want to reach and what it is THEY want, what THEY need, and WHERE they are going to go to look for that information.