A magazine editor's job is really three jobs. Magazine editors write articles, commission articles from other writers on subjects the magazine's target audience wants to read about, and edit articles for sense, substance, style and grammatical correctness. Beyond writing ability and a love for reading, there are several other key skills successful magazine editors need.
According to Audrey Owen with Writers Helper, "an editor is a mediator" who "stands between the writer and the reader and helps them to understand each other." Writers want readers, and readers -- especially magazine readers -- want information. A magazine editor's job is to help writers convey their intended meaning to readers while engaging readers' desire to keep reading. A common complaint about editors is that they are just frustrated writers. Some may be, but the best and most successful editors help writers be more fully themselves.
Critical Thinking and Organizational Skills
All editors need to be able to see what is not there as well as what is. They must understand how ideas fit together and how those ideas should best be ordered so the writer conveys to the reader what he intends to convey. Sometimes a writer has covered all the important points and ideas, but has organized them in a way that is chronologically or logically incorrect, or confusing -- or in a style or voice that doesn't conform to the magazine's demographic profile. Magazine editors must have the critical thinking skills to recognize when a writer's ideas don't fit together in a logical or clear way, and the organizational skills to help the writer re-order or re-cast those points and ideas in a way that will make sense to the reader.
Research and Fact-Checking Skills
Knowing how and where to find information and verify facts is essential for magazine editors. Some larger publications have separate research departments, but since magazine editors assign articles to outside writers and write articles themselves, they still must be knowledgeable about reference sources both in print and on the Internet. This is important for managing time as well as accuracy and quality. Magazine editors work on tight deadlines, and must know exactly where to go to find what they need when they need it.
The days of galley and page proofs are long gone. Now, writers and editors send articles to each other via email attachment, and proprietary editing and publishing software has largely replaced the ubiquitous red pencil. Magazine editors need to be comfortable working with advanced technology and be familiar with different software platforms to have a competitive advantage in the field.
Specialized Subject Matter Skills
There are thousands of specialized magazines written and published for people who work in or are interested in a particular industry. There are also numerous magazines that deal exclusively with one kind of subject matter -- science magazines, for example, or magazines for runners, or for doll collectors. And there are technical and scientific journals that publish only peer-reviewed authors. These types of publications want their editors to have a demonstrated interest in the subject and sufficient understanding of it to edit writers who are experts in the field. The exact credentials or degree of expertise needed to edit specialized subject matter varies. Peer-reviewed scientific journals, for example, are likely to require that top editors, at least, be scientists themselves. A more business-oriented trade magazine might require only that editors have strong experience writing or editing in the particular field.
- Writer's Helper: What Is An Editor?
- Editors' Association of Canada: So You Want to Be an Editor
- American Society of Business Press Editors: What in the World Is a Magazine Editor?
- Council of Science Editors: Careers in Science Editing
- Salon: Let Us Now Praise Editors
- ASBPE: The American Ceramic Society
- Business Dictionary.com: Proprietary Software
- The Renegade Writer: A Hidden Market for Freelance Writers
- Human Resources and Skills Development Canada: Essential Skills: Editors
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