Managing the world of magazine editing

By Brooke Smith

What does it mean to be a managing editor (ME) of a magazine? Well, I couldn’t say it better than the ubiquitous slogan “Keep calm and carry on.” Those five words are the key to the ME’s sanity.

As the ME of a magazine, you are the arbiter of the schedule, making sure that writers meet their deadlines, editors meet their deadlines, and the magazine meets its deadline for the printer or to go online.

The ME has to crack the whip to get all of the team members (typically with different personalities and work styles) to stay on schedule, and the ME must manage to do so without blowing up.

Here is an introduction to the world of managing editing and the top five things you can do to keep from losing your mind:

  1. Provide “deadlines”: Yes, we know many writers can turn a phrase, but many cannot meet a deadline. When you’re assigning a story, give a false deadline. Yes, I’m telling you to lie. Make sure the deadline is at least a week before the true deadline. That way, if your writer calls or emails that there is a crisis (that is, the story is not done), voila! You have wiggle room. You can say, “Yes, you can have an extension. How about another three or four days?”
  1. Track the process: If you’re not a spreadsheet wizard, you will soon become one. Use a spreadsheet program (I use Excel) to track what stage each story is at for each issue; when they’re due, who’s editing the story, if it’s back with the writer for revisions, or if it’s with the art department for layout. That way, in a pinch, you can check where each story is in the process instead of trying to keep it all in your head.
  1. Move stories along: There is nothing worse than having to wait for people. Editors are not always at their desks for some reason or another—meetings, conferences, etc. While you may have a set order for editors working on articles, sometimes you will have to go out of order to keep the copy and process flowing. Keep an eye on who’s in and out of the office and move the copy accordingly. In other words, if there are stories (in paper form) waiting on an absent editor’s desk, move them to another editor who is in the office.
  1. Meet with staff regularly: Schedule recurring meetings with staff (for example, once a week for 30 to 40 minutes). This will help you keep track of what everyone is working on. It will also help you to know what’s going on behind the scenes with your team, and determine if there are any issues (such as problems with a photo shoot or delinquent writers).
  1. Keep calm: Unforeseen things will happen. That is a given. But that doesn’t mean that you, as the ME, completely lose it. If the sales team drops an ad or the editorial department needs to add another story at the last minute, just keep calm and carry on. There is no point stressing out everyone on your team and yourself. The issue will meet its deadline—that is your job—but it’s better to do that in a calm way, without raising your blood pressure.

Being a managing editor is a great job. It’s a busy job, but it’s a great job. Don’t let disorganization prevent you from enjoying it. Be organized and “keep calm and carry on.”

Brooke Smith has worked in the magazine industry for over 10 years. She began as a copy editor and is now managing editor of Benefits Canada.

This article was copy edited by Laura Edlund.

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