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Recommended Reading: Become a Magazine Editor by Barbara Johnston

By Barbara Johnston, Editor & Partner, West Coast Editorial Associates

The magazine business, like all forms of publishing, has undergone seismic shifts in the last decade with the flight of print advertising to online and the growth of tablet and mobile reading habits, requiring existing magazines to reinvent themselves and providing new opportunities for innovators. Something that doesn’t change is the need to focus on readers’ interests and needs, and magazine editors who serve readers well will always be in demand. Here are some books, blogs and other resources that are useful for both new and experienced magazine editors.

Mastering the craft with dictionaries

Some cherish dictionaries, but they’re not everyone’s passion; if you’re going to thrive in magazines, you should know your way around the following three:

  • Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Canadian spelling patterns). Available online via subscription. The ITP Nelson Canadian Dictionary and Gage Canadian Dictionary are also used as Canadian sources.
  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (American spelling patterns). Free online.
  • Oxford English Dictionary (British spelling patterns). Free online.

Mastering the craft with usage, grammar and other guides

Dozens of print and online works are available—what’s best for you will depend on the publication you’re working for. Here is a partial list to get you started; all are recent or recently updated:

Mastering the craft with style guides

There are many specialized and a few general style guides, but in Canadian general interest magazines you are most likely to follow the Canadian Press Stylebook, known simply as CP. It is well organized, frequently updated, available in French (La Presse Canadienne Guide de redaction) and available in print or as an online guide for an annual subscription fee. Also available is its very handy companion Canadian Press Caps and Spelling. Seeing as you can never have too many books (or bookmarks), here are some others to consider:

  • Associated Press Stylebook 2017. [print or online subscription]
  • Chicago Manual of Style. 17th edition. [print or online subscription]
  • Editing Canadian English: A Guide for Editors, Writers, and Everyone Who Works with Words. 3rd edition, 2015. Editors’ Association of Canada [print and ebook]

Breaking into the business

If you’re just starting out and want to become a magazine editor, it can be hard to know where to start: many different career paths might lead you there, and when you talk to people in the business you’ll find that their backgrounds, degrees and job histories are remarkably diverse. While this may seem discouraging, it actually means that if you really want to do this job, no matter where you’re starting from, it’s possible to find a path there! You’re probably inspired by the greats, like The Walrus, Harper’s, Geist, Maclean’s, Canadian Geographic or Vanity Fair. However, the fight for entry-level jobs at these institutions is fierce. To gain experience, consider the smaller magazines and journals that you might not see on the newsstands: depending on your interests, small literary or art journals, science and nature journals, online-only magazines, and industry and association journals (to name a few) employ many more editors than the newsstand magazines. At these magazines you can gain critical experience while doing satisfying, challenging work in fascinating niche fields, and you’ll meet talented professionals happy to pass on their knowledge and enthusiasm for the evolving world of magazine editing.

Career path to becoming a magazine editor [web resource]
wikihow.com/Become-a-Magazine-Editor
Good basic information. Divided into three sections: Gaining Early Experience, Getting the Proper Education, and Breaking into the Field. Emphasizes the path from writer to editor, which is just one among many.

How to be a copy editor for a magazine [blog]
parade.com/338088/amykierce/how-to-be-a-copy-editor-for-a-magazine
A short, clear article on what it’s like to be a copy editor for a magazine.

So you want to be an editor: Information about a career in editing (Editors’ Canada) [web resource and PDF]
editors.ca/join/so-you-want-be-editor-0
Perhaps the best brief introduction and overview of the field of editing; includes sections on where and how editors work, career paths, rewards and drawbacks, educations and training, and interesting “meet an editor” boxes throughout, which bring the field to life.

Moving on up: Thriving in magazine publishing and editing

If you’re already in the magazine business and looking to work your way up to the corner office, here are some great books and sites to help get you there:

The Art of Making Magazines, edited by Victor S. Navasky and Evan Cornog, 2012. [179-page book]
A collection of 12 articles by editors, writers, art directors and publishers from magazines such as Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Elle and Harper’s. A fascinating and instructive read for anyone interested in being part of the magazine business, with a good mix of practical advice and behind-the-scenes war stories from leaders in the industry.

Best Practices for Canadian Magazine Publishing, Editing and Writing, PWAC, Canadian Society of Magazine Editors, and Magazines Canada, 2011. [9-page PDF]
pwac.ca/resources/Documents/Writing%20Information/bestpracticesguide.pdf
Created through a consensus process involving writers, magazine editors and publishers from across Canada, this document describes the professional obligations for each group in succinct bullet-points. All three sections are worth reading so that one can understand not only one’s own role, but the perspective and expectations of the other two parties in this symbiotic relationship.

The Editor’s Companion: An Indispensable Guide to Editing Books, Magazines, Online Publications, and More by Steve Dunham, 2015. [231-page book]
A useful guide for both new and experienced editors, organized around editing for content, focus, precise language and grammar, along with advice on editorial relationships and workflow, and samples of editing with explanations of what was changed and why. Magazines Canada


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Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)

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