Magazine Writing: Working With Your Editor

I've touched on this a little bit in the past, but it’s such an important subject that it deserves a post all by itself. When it comes to writing for print, understanding your editor is a key piece of the puzzle.

Editors for print are different than those that work on the web. There are different demands and priorities. While some things are universal (example: both want clean, error-free copy), others are not. Here is some information that should help you work seamlessly with any magazine editor:

In general, editors for a print publication need to follow an editorial calendar pretty closely. This means there may be less room for flexibility in terms of what subjects they can cover. For you, the writer, this means a narrower base for queries unless you know what the editorial lineup is going to be. Always ask if there is an editorial calendar available when you request guidelines. It might open the right door for you in terms of what to pitch.

I’ve mentioned this before—in print—follow your word count specifications. This bears repeating because they are usually determined by the amount/size of ads in the publication, so they are fairly set. If you want to keep your editor happy, don’t make them come back to you to cut your copy down. Get it right the first time.

Know the difference between photo specs for the web and photos for print. And don’t jam up the editor’s inbox with big files. Low-quality files are not usable for print publications, so you’ll need to find out what the requirements are and how the editor would like to receive them. If you crash their inbox, let’s just say you aren’t going to be on their good side.

Know that you might get bumped. This stinks, but it happens—and especially in print. Since things are so far out ahead of real time, once in a while an article will be pulled for something that is timely. If this happens to you, be cool. The editor is trying to do what is best for the publication, and if you start complaining or pestering them, your piece might not run at all. Should you get word that they are holding your article for future use, try to be as professional as you can. It’s OK to ask if they know when it might run. It’s not OK to follow up every couple of weeks.

Take a clue from the masthead. Although some web publications have a masthead, this listing of who does what is especially helpful for those looking to break into print. By studying this list you can learn all kinds of things, such as which columns are written in-house (match articles up with the names of editors), who you should send your pitch to, any changes in the lineup of editors (and there are constant changes!) and so much more. The masthead is your friend. It keeps you from making mistakes that an amateur writer would make, thus making you look better in the eyes of an editor.

Know that the editor isn't always online. Print editors often have numerous "jobs" that can include everything from looking at layout to long meetings with other personnel. This can mean slower communication than you might get when working with an online publication. Try to be patient.

Note that these are generalizations. Some web editors have long meetings, and some print editors may not care if you send them a large file via e-mail. Even so, if you can try to keep these points in mind when writing for magazines, it will help you have a smoother ride.

Any other tips to share? Any editors out there want to comment? Feel free...

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Catherine L. Tully has over nine years of experience writing for magazines such as American Style, AAA Living and Boys' Life. She is the editor for an award-winning blog on freelance writing and also owns and edits a blog for dance professionals.

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