The Life of a Magazine Editor: Part One

The Editorial Calendar

Every journey requires a map, or in more modern terms, a GPS system—something that tells you, and everybody riding with you, where you are going and how you plan to get there. In magazine publishing, it all begins with an editorial calendar: that’s the map we use, it’s the outline for our stories and photos.

If you didn’t know already, consumer-based magazines need to appeal to two diverse groups of people. It is the editor’s hope that these two groups will discover one another, fall in love, and develop a lifelong relationship.

I’m talking, of course, about the reader and the advertiser.

So, I began putting my 2008 editorial calendar together back in July and August of 2007. Each month had a theme and a sub theme. My task was to come up with topics that would appear fresh and timely, even though each story would have to be planned for nearly a year before it would reach our readers. Each issue needed to be different from the preceding one, and also needed to remain within the confines of the magazine’s mission statement.

Editorial calendars can, and do, change as we work with them. Some items may be added, some omitted. For example, I have my April 2008 calendar below:

Victorian cottages: the Schagen cottage
Historic community of Victorian cottages
Diary of a Restoration
Historic house signatures, the stories left behind
William Morris, his books and art

When it came time to produce the April issue, one story was dropped—the historic house signatures, and one story was changed slightly, the article about William Morris.

This roadmap not only guided me when choosing certain feature stories, it also helped my regular contributors when selecting topics for the departments. One contributor wrote a column about cottage furniture (main theme), another about the history of the Kentucky Derby (sub theme), and another about the history of dog shows (sub theme).

The editorial calendar is extremely helpful for both freelance writers and photographers, as well. Your story idea might be a perfect fit for a certain issue, and if you communicate that in your cover letter or e-mail, it will demonstrate two things. First, you took the time to ask for and review the magazine’s editorial calendar before sending in a pitch. Second, you came up with a potential solution to the editor’s never-ending dilemma: how to fill all those blank pages.

If a writer had pitched me a story about shutters or white picket fences or window box gardens, telling me that this story could be a good potential fit for my April cottage issue, I would have listened. If he had mentioned that he had several sidebar ideas, like a list of places where my readers could buy these items, or a list of historic paint colors, or the top ten ways a homeowner can improve the resale value of his cottage, then I probably would have handed over an assignment letter almost immediately.

Questions about editorial calendars or what a magazine editor does? Just put them in the post section below.

Next Monday: The difference between departments, features, and special features, and why this should matter to every freelance writer.

So, stay tuned. Same bat time. Same bat channel.


Real Live Preacher said...

Ah yes, organization. The bane of my existence. Nice thoughts.

Merrie Destefano said...

Thanks for dropping by!

Organization and creativity. They seem like oil and water, don't they? Right brain, left brain, fighting, always fighting, like two teenagers who co-own one skateboard ...

Well, as you can see, organization isn't my favorite "skill," but one I must employ to survive.

Thanks for the post!