Monday, December 04, 2006

Mastering the Masthead

How do I make sense of a magazine's masthead? I understand what beauty and fashion editors are but I don't have a clue about what the other titles actually mean. I'd like to understand for those cases where I can't contact the magazine for the appropriate editor to query, as has happened recently with a major women's magazine. A dozen phone calls and several messages left for the editorial department netted me nothing.

Okay, well, I have a masthead of a women's mag open right now, and I'll go through the different positions and try to explain them to the best of my ability and knowledge. Keep in mind that I've never worked at a magazine, so this is my best understanding, not my hands-on info, and to be honest, some of these titles mean different things at different magazines. But this should give you an idea of which eds to pitch, at the very least.

Editor-in-chief: Think of this person as the president or CEO - she drives the vision, the tone and content of the magazine as a whole. In fact, when an EIC is ousted or chooses to leave, the overall shape of the magazine often shifts entirely. That's how much sway she has. Don't pitch her.

Deputy Editor (might also be called Executive Editor): The EIC's #2 and collaborator. Again, not someone you'd pitch. She primarily top-edits, meaning she'll take a look at all of the stories that are being written for a particular issue, might weigh in with some comments and general thoughts, but really is more responsible for pulling together the complete vision of the magazine and making sure it's all cohesive and in sync with the mag's overall message.

Managing Editor: This can widely vary from magazine to magazine, but I guess in general, the ME handles a variety of business aspects of running a magazine such as overseeing production, closing (wrapping up the mag each month), budgets, invoices, etc. Definitely not someone you'd pitch.

Fashion Director/Editor: Responsible for the fashion layouts/spreads in the magazine. Doesn't deal with copy, so not someone you'd pitch. If they *do* deal with copy, they usually have go-to writers that they'd tap - writers who really focus on fashion, style and trends.

Contributing Editor: Generally a freelance writer, like me, who is commissioned for a certain amount of stories per year at perhaps a slightly higher rate than the going freelance rate. The CEs might also be prohibited from writing for competitors in exchange for these guaranteed assignments.

Copy Editor: Responsible for ensuring that there are no typos, grammatically incorrect sentences or other glaring mistakes in the copy. Not someone you'd pitch.

Features Editor: The person who doles out the assignments for the stories in the well of the magazine - the juicy, longer features that most writers aspire to. Yes, this is someone you'd pitch if you had a 1200+ word story.

Senior Editor: More or less the same as the features editor, though perhaps *slightly* lower on the just depends on the magazine, and how they assign titles.

Associate Editor: Another person to pitch. Again, their areas of assigning can vary, but if the features or senior editors handle the longer stories, these guys probably handle certain sections of the magazine that have shorter bits or FOBs - like, maybe three pages of Sex and Relationships or the Food and Nutrition pages.

Assistant Editor: Likely the most junior person on the masthead, other than interns. Which doesn't mean that you shouldn't be gracious and lovely to them: assistants move up and eventually become senior editors. They usually don't handle assigning, however, though they might serve as a filter to the higher-ups: weeding through ideas and picking out the winners. Still though, since they have to send the idea so far up the ladder, you'd probably have better success pitching an associate or senior ed.

Did I miss anyone? (Probably?) Are my explanations decently accurate? If not, feel free to correct me!


Anonymous said...

This is great, thanks! What if the mag has both a features editor and an articles editor?

Allison Winn Scotch said...

I'd probably call and find out who is more appropriate, but they're very similar positions, and you likely won't go wrong with either. Some of these things aren't clear cut.

Brian Westover said...

Allison, thanks for the clarification on mastheads. I know I've been confused on these sorts of things before.

Anonymous said...

This is fantastic, Allison, thank you!

Anonymous said...

LOVE this information -- great, great post.

Anonymous said...

Allison, great post!

FYI, managing editors have been the assigning editors at some trade magazines I've written for. Maybe this is something specific to trades?

Here's wishing you a happy, healthy baby!