The Editor's Letter: Come On In!
Remember when you used to jump into the pool then call out, "Come on in, the water's fine!" Same thing with the editor's page. You have been swimming around in these editorial waters for a long time, and now you want readers to join you. Hey, leap in, the writing's fine.
Most books have an editor's page, often called just that. Some books add a flourish that makes the EP more content appropriate: Editor's Quill (Birder's World) and Editor's Angle (Wood Magazine), for example.
The EP is opportunity knocking loudly at the magazine's front door. Like the cover, the editor's welcome is a marketing page;that is, one that sells the magazine at large. It brings readers into the store to wander through the aisles where they can browse both editorial and advertising.
Here are some recommendations on how to package the page for maximum effect:
Where to locate? Usually the page is up front, following the TOC, preceding Letters. Editor & Publisher, which covers the newspaper trade, runs it near the middle of the book, just as a newspaper runs editorials deep into the news section.
Visuals, anyone? A photo of the author, preferably one that is current and may even change from season to season. Vermont Life is good at this, with editor Tom Slayton out there in the snow on skis for a column on the joys of winter. The author's signature, at the end of the column, can also be a visual flourish. Even better if the signature is legible.
How long? Two thirds of a page is standard; that leaves a third for the masthead. Some EPs run a full page. Texas Monthly runs a full page, then jumps a column to a second page where a fractional ad resides.
What topics? Several categories dominate in EPs of my acquaintance:
- In This Issue. The editor draws attention to a key story (usually the cover) or a writer/contributor to the issue, with some background information on how the story came together. Ruth Reichl of Gourmet did a column on how talking about TV at an editorial staff meeting led to a special section on television's effect on dining habits: TV dinners, Julia Child, food reality shows, et alia.
- Meet the Staff. The editor highlights an editor or staff team that worked especially hard on the issue. Usually it's a theme issue, a power list, something that took months of research and reporting to develop. Newsweek adds online information to Mark Whitaker's EP, including "Columnists and Live Talks: The Week Ahead on the Web."
- Meet Yourself. The audience profile: A new survey just arrived from circulation and advertising, and here's what we now know about you and your average household income, gentle reader. Jay DeWitt of FenderBender wrote an interesting column about meeting readers coming to the magazine's booth during a show in Las Vegas.
- Win/Win. The editor is pleased to announce a competition for readers, perhaps a photo contest, which may be your opportunity to win money, become a published photographer, and help us fill a future issue with no-cost visuals.
- Take a Stand. Editors can take a leadership position on industry topics and controversies affecting readers. John Hollon of Workforce Management, whose readers are HR execs, explained how United Airlines unloaded $6.6 billion of pension obligations, as it flew into bankruptcy, on the federal government;a tab that would be passed along to taxpayers.
No matter what the title, no matter what the topic, the editor's page remains essentially a letter to readers. Think of it as an e-mail; something newsy, friendly, informal, and something that invites a message in return.
P.S. One final suggestion for your EP is to add a postscript (something that is nearly always read, colleagues in direct mail tell me). Include your phone number or e-mail address so that readers can interact. They like that.
John Brady is partner at Brady & Paul Communications, a magazineworks that rethinks and redesigns magazines with offices in Fort Lauderdale, New York City, and Newburyport, MA. He is visiting professional at the Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University, and can be reached at Bradybrady@aol.com.