6 Crucial Lessons About Editors I Learned from Starting My Own Magazine
My first attempt at making a magazine was in sixth grade. My friend and I wrote articles and compiled visuals that we glued to sheets of Xerox paper.
One Sunday I sat at my family’s copier and manually assembled ten double-sided copies of my 30+ page magazine, called RoZgIrl, that I passed out to my classmates the next day at school. I got a rush sharing my work with other people.
Then, as a sophomore in journalism school, I decided to start my own magazine for real. I’d watched magazines succeed and fall apart in my various internships and decided I could do this for real.
M.L.T.S. Magazine, a quarterly online publication that covers lifestyle, education and career topics for young women in college, was launched in June 2011.
It’s been the greatest challenge of my life and the rewards are addictive (being profiled on the Huffington Post was the coolest honor!). Among the many things I’ve learned from starting my own magazine are a few that have informed my interaction with editors at other magazines.
1. Editors are always looking for new writers.
Honestly, I get a little giddy every time a new writer contacts me saying they want to write for M.L.T.S. When I set out to create a magazine, I knew that I couldn’t write all of the articles, gather all the artwork, do the layout and promote the publication and so I did a big recruiting push – contacting j-school listservs and Ed2010 – and I got a lot of nibbles but very few writers stuck around.
Writers are a crucial part of the team and yet no matter how many writers I have, I’m always looking for new ones. I’ve had several writers back out at the last minute so I prefer having lots of writers on tap.
The takeaway: Even if you think there’s no way in heck that you’ll get a response, send that pitch or LOI!
2. Editors love controversy and shock-factor.
When I made that first magazine in sixth grade, I wrote a piece for the FOB fashion section about a classmate who anointed herself chief of the fashion police and made declarative statements about what the girls wore to school. I never used her name but my classmates knew who I meant. As my peers all turned to the same page and I heard whispers, I realized how important controversy can be for getting people interested in your magazine.
After starting M.L.T.S. my focus shifted toward page views and Facebook likes and my boyfriend kept saying, “Publish controversial stuff. Pick an unpopular view and write about it. Get people to notice you.” And he’s right. I need to publish stuff that will get people reading, responding and sharing if I want people to notice my magazine.
The takeaway: Writers might have an easier time breaking into a market if they pitch stories that are controversial or have great shock factor.
3. Editors sometimes need to be reminded that you sent that awesome pitch.
I get a lot of emails on my Android phone and sometimes, I just don’t feel like typing up a long response on its little screen or I want to read your resume and sample clips on my big computer… Then I forget to do those things when I’m next in front of a computer. Lots of times, it takes me a week to get back to writers.
Every now and then, a writer who has emailed me once will write to follow up. “Sorry to bother you,” she’ll write. I’m always quick to say that I’m sorry I didn’t get back to the writer sooner and thank them for following up. Someone with that kind of persistence seems a little less likely to flake on me later.
The takeaway: The follow-up email is crucial to your success as a writer.
4. A writer who makes her editor’s life easier is beloved.
Since I’m in charge of every aspect of my magazine’s operation and publication, my head is often swimming. There are about three thousand to-do lists on my desk.
Writers like my style blogger make my life easier because she posts every day without needing to be hassled or have her hand held. And any writer who suggests a hed and dek or who takes a last minute assignment has a friend for life.
The takeaway: Being aware of how much an editor has on her plate and making an effort to simplify her job is a great way to ensure your editor thinks highly of you.
5. Your editor should know if you’re having trouble finding sources or real people.
A lot of the pitches I receive rely much too heavily on personal experience. I’m always asking the writers how they can turn their idea into a piece that relies more on reportage, including interviews with experts and other “real girls.”
One time, because a writer was pretty inexperienced, I did a lot of research for her and found her a list of five good sources to interview. The day of her deadline, she emailed me to say she couldn’t get a hold of any of those sources.
If she’d told me weeks in advance, I could have tried to contact them as well or helped her find new sources. Instead, she waited until the last minute and I had to scramble to find something to fill the spot that was dedicated to her piece.
The takeaway: Sometimes your experts won’t get back to you or you can’t find “real” examples of your trend, but instead of just quitting your assignment, let your editor know. They’ll tell you how to proceed.
6. Editors need to know if you’re going to miss your deadline.
One of my regular columnists who covers sex and relationships suffers from a medical condition that means she’s occasionally incapacitated and must miss her weekly deadline. She always sends me an email letting me know what’s wrong and when she’ll be getting her assignment in.
Whatever the assignment or the amount of time a writer has been given to complete it, I might not be happy you’re going to miss your deadline, but if you let me know ahead of time, I’ll be much happier than if you miss your deadline and never get in contact with me.
The takeaway: Whatever your reasons, let your editor know ahead of time if you’re going to miss your deadline.
Have you ever worked at a magazine or other publication? What rules have you learned that you now apply to your freelancing? Add your insights to the Comments below!
Rosella Eleanor LaFevre is the founder and editor-in-chief of M.L.T.S. Magazine and a freelance writer. Her first book, a YA romance titled Calixte, is available as an eBook on Amazon. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.