Three Things I Learned as a Magazine Editor
From March of 2010 to September of 2013, I was the editor-in-chief of Privateer Press’s in-house magazine No Quarter. I directly produced twenty issues (plus two special editions) as EIC and then another ten or so after I was promoted to publications manager (though the magazine had a new EIC at that time). Anyway, I’ve written about my first issue here, so I thought I’d write about my final issue as EIC and what I learned as a magazine editor.
Though I didn’t plan it this way, it was cool to go out on a nice round number AND the ten-year anniversary of WARMACHINE (the game No Quarter was created to support). It also had some seriously badass cover art by Andrea Uderzo.
So, after twenty-plus 96- to 112-page issues, here are three things I learned as a magazine editor and how they help me today.
- Prioritize. There is literally no way to run a magazine starting with the first article and working straight through to the last one. It just doesn’t work that way. You plan out all the articles, assign them to writers, assign art to artists, and then get cracking on the stuff you can do personally (editorials, articles I was writing, and so on). The writing and art comes in as it comes in, so if you get the writing for one article, you start editing, then if the art comes in for an article you’ve already edited, you switch tracks and get that article into layout. You do this, jumping around from article to article until you have a complete magazine. I would generally prioritize articles I could get into layout since that was completely out of my hands, and a finished article is something I could mark off my list. Also, cover assets were always prioritized. If you don’t have a cover, you don’t have a magazine. I know this seems haphazard, but once you get a couple of issues under your belt, there’s a definite flow to it, and you just surrender to editorial tides. That prioritization is a skill I’ve taken into writing novels and working on freelance projects (some of which ARE novels). Work on the stuff you can work on right now. When you’re waiting for a publisher to get back to you for edits and other directions, work on another part of the project if you can. When you’re struggling with one part of a novel, switch tracks and work on another part or work on something else entirely. In short, if you prioritize, you never stop working toward a finished product, be it a novel or a freelance gig.
- Collaboration. Another absolute must when running a magazine is learning how to play nice with others. You are absolutely beholden to writers, artists, and layout folks, and forging good relationships with these people is absolutely key. This is not to say that I didn’t expect freelancers to hit their deadlines, and an artist or writer who didn’t just didn’t get more work from me. I also relied heavily on in-house writers, sculptors, the graphic design department, the editing and continuity departments, and so on. My goal was always to make their job as easy as possible because, well, that’s just how I roll, and also there would definitely come a time where I’d need them to pull my ass out of the fire and building up goodwill definitely made that request go down easier. I also got a lot of experience dealing with freelancers, and that has definitely shaped how I approach freelance today. Essentially, I try to hit the trifecta of good writing, hitting my deadlines, and being easy to work with. Do those three things and editors will sing your praises and best of all, give you more work. When I found an artist or writer that could reliably do those things, I gave them a TON of work because it was one less thing I had to worry about.
- Get it DONE. You don’t have time for writer’s block or just-don’t-feel-like-it when your putting together a magazine. You write and edit beneath the harsh glare of THE DEADLINE. It’s a ticking clock you absolutely cannot defy. The magazine has to go out on time. If it doesn’t, subscribers don’t get their issues, the printer might not be able to accommodate, and you start at a deficit for the next article. In short, you are fucked. So you do what is necessary to make sure that issue goes out the door on time. I wrote articles at the zero hour when a freelancer couldn’t meet their deadline. I scoured the vast library of art we had to find SOMETHING that would work for an article when an artist dropped the ball. I moved and replaced articles with frenzied abandon. What did I learn from this? Well, I learned how to write under the adverse conditions. A noisy office, deadlines looming, pressure intensifying, and the knowledge that if I didn’t get it done, no one would. So, I can write quickly. I can write under tight deadlines. I can write with multiple changes to a project and roll with it. In short, being a magazine editor made me a better writer.
Now, the caveat to all this is, as usual, that it is entirely based on my experience and how I ran a magazine. Other editors might do things differently, and there are differences in running an in-house magazine as opposed to an independent one. That said, I’d bet good money that my experiences are at least somewhat relatable to magazine editors everywhere.
If you have any questions about my tenure with No Quarter magazine or what it’s like to edit a magazine, fire away in the comments.