The Accidental Profession
Editors are made, not born.
Magazine editing is not a job. It’s a calling. Like barbecue experts, most editors are self-proclaimed. Very few graduate from journalism school where they majored in magazine editing and come up through the editorial ranks. Most editors of my acquaintance have stumbled into their jobs through happenstance. They studied accounting (with an English minor), took a summer job at a fulfillment house, did some copyediting on the side, became an assistant editor when someone quit on short notice and now the title is: Editor-in-chief.
I call it the accidental profession. Or another way of putting it is—we don’t choose magazine editing. It chooses us.
Today, the job is changing dramatically as we find ourselves in the midst of enormous change in the profession. We are in the bunker in an age when magazines as we have come to know and love are at risk. Many are gone, and many others are in deep decline—as though they are saying: “Please help me, I’ve fallen and can’t get up.”
What Can We Do?
Foremost, let’s recognize that the dilemma is not primarily an editorial problem. In most publications, editorial has never been better. Advertising—or the lack thereof—is the problem.
What does an editor need in these troubled times? You don’t need more money. (In fact, don’t even ask.) You don’t need a bigger staff. That’s just more cost—and more people to worry and wonder about.
I think you may need an extra dose of savvy—which I define as the ability to learn and to work that knowledge quickly into the editorial mix while we ride things out and wait for an upturn in the economy and in the ad-page count.
A minor in psychology helps.
This is nothing new for us in the editing game. Inventors and magazine editors are seldom without problems to solve. It’s all part of the job description.
We all know how important it is to know what you want. It is also important to like being in charge, and now is the time for being in charge of change.
When the crunch is on, editors will go to great lengths to make everything change. They will hire new people and fire those who don’t seem to do the right thing. They will change the look of a magazine. They will change the story mix, the departments. They will do everything but change themselves.
Your Real Job: Editorial Sales Manager
To which I say—editor, examine thyself. Instead of taking yourself as an editor, consider a totally new persona. Your approach to each issue should be: This is not a publication, it is an EVENT.
You are in charge of selling tickets to an editorial event. Think of your job as Editorial Sales Manager.
Here we can take a page from the advertising playbook. Advertising changes constantly. Ad campaigns change. Ads within a campaign change regularly. Some ads are seen only a few times, and then replaced within a 30-day cycle.
Tradition is one of the major roadblocks to editorial change, a powerful force not easily overcome. “If it’s October, we’ve got to do the show issue”—that kind of thinking is paralysis in the current environment.
It all begins with a campaign plan. Revising and revamping your contributor guidelines is a golden opportunity to change the way you do editorial business. Get the magazine on a new track at ground level, and keep it there for purposes of editorial planning.
The editor’s job today goes beyond getting the magazine’s content right. As editorial sales manager (or event planner), your job is to SELL editorial, to stage the magazine as an ongoing advertisement for itself. This means creating events that are constantly evolving and changing so that each issue reads and looks “the same, only different” and, in doing so, arouses curiosity about the next issue.
John Brady is a partner at Brady & Paul Communications, a publishing consultancy that assists and critiques magazines. For information on his workshop text Magazine Editing: The Practical Approach and his Interviewer’s Handbook: A Guerrilla Guide for Reporters and Writers, his web site is johnbrady.info, or you may e-mail him at Bradybrady@aol.com.