Let me say, first and foremost, I feel more comfortable saying I’m an editor. Perhaps because I feel judged (even by myself) when I say I’m a writer. It’s an “artsy-fartsy” career– no one makes money writing, right?
In my heart, I’m a writer; in my head, I’m an editor.
As editor and contributor to Modern Agriculture Magazine, I was asked to speak before the Professional Writers Association of Canada (Fraser Valley chapter) about the relationship between editor and writer. I tried to provide perspective from both sides of the desk, even though they are two very different jobs.
Since 2010, I’ve worked as a freelance writer and editor, and social media manager. I came across an ad for a proofreader for Modern Agriculture Magazine in 2014 and, despite my complete lack of experience in farming or growing anything other than mould, I applied and got the gig.
Getting a Magazine to Print
I love the grass roots way in which Modern Agriculture Magazine began. In 2013 a small group of students in the agriculture department at the University of the Fraser Valley shared the same view about agriculture publications as one of their teachers: not enough hyper-local interest stories or communication about all the exciting new tech and innovation in the ag sector that they were learning about in class. It was suggested they start their own publication, and so they surged ahead with that raw courage of youth.
Over the past few years, it has been submissions from writers and suggestions and feedback from readers that has directed the layout and content of Modern Ag Mag. The magazine was created with the farming community in mind, but we now want producers, retailers, distributors and consumers to feel they are gaining valuable, relevant information about food and the ag industry.
The magazine produces four issues a year focusing on local farming stories as well as global innovations in agriculture. Though submissions come in from around the world, the publishers have always preferred to use the talents of local writers with expertise in agriculture and horticulture.
My role with the magazine slowly morphed and grew, and now I might perform the roles of structural editor, line editor, managing editor, writer and proofreader. Traditional publishing houses or larger magazines have distinct titles with specific tasks attached to those titles. Smaller publications have less positions but the same tasks, so the lines between tasks are necessarily blurred.
Titles like Managing Editor, Feature Editor, Editor-in-Chief, Substantive Editor, Publisher, Manager, Director, and departments within the publication: Publishing, Design, Acquisitions, Sales, and Editorial can be an overwhelming hierarchy, but with our little magazine we have a small staff and eventually writers and advertisers get to know our whole team.
If a writer submits work to a larger magazine publisher, they might be working with several editors at different stages and might never work with the proofreaders—the last people to see the work before going to print.
It’s truly a team effort to get an issue of Modern Agriculture published. We are each other’s sounding board, support system, and will step into each role as required without stepping on toes—and that in itself is the key to a successful issue. Respect and politeness go a long way when you’re working with a small team and tight deadlines.
Gurtaj Sandhu was one of the original publishers of the magazine, so he has had input in all departments, but now can focus his energy on advertising as Sales Manager. He also coordinates meetings and our attendance at industry events as the publisher’s representative.
Amanda Thind is our Manager or Managing Editor and she oversees each issue and is the go between for writers, me (the Editor), and our Creative Director. She handles the accounts payable/receivable, the publication schedule, the final proof and the quality of the print. She also is in communication with most of our regular contributors and in touch with all levels of the ag community and resources for stories.
Our Creative Director, Karin Nelson, worked with the original publishing team on the design of the magazine and often shares her opinion on the content and direction we are going. Her artistic, creative mind allows for a different perspective and she contributes to the tone of the magazine.
The Role of an Editor
For me, the self-judgement that goes on sometimes when I write is non-existent when I have on my editor’s hat. As writers, we all know we can be our own worse critics. I think that’s why I have a delicate touch when it comes to editing the work of others, because I truly understand how personal it can feel when your creation comes under scrutiny.
Editors are analytical rather than artistic. As the editor and proofreader for the magazine, I am able to be critical without being cruel, and encouraging without being emotional.
As an editor, I have to be efficient and focus on correct copy. I need a certain confidence, stubbornness and a critical eye. Sometimes a writer and I will enthusiastically disagree with a change to the work—but that’s rare. We are all working together with one goal which is to produce a quality magazine and educate and inform readers.
But with any disagreement, if the piece is needed and there’s a deadline looming, it’s time to get real. For me, it’s a balance between considering the feelings of others, the reasons the article has to be altered, and will the end result justify the battle over word choice or a punctuation mark. The relationship I’m building with a writer is more important than what I view as a “perfect article”. The writer’s name is on the work, after all.
Disagreeing with an Editor
If you really believe your work has suffered due to a change, bring the issue up with the editor. The best way to approach your editor is to say, “I’d really like to understand the reason behind the change in case it’s something that comes up in the future.” If the editor can make a case for the edits, then you have learned something. If not, then the editor might decide the change wasn’t really necessary. Now, you’re working as a team, and future issues, hopefully, will be easier to address.
That being said, writers (myself included) have to remember that editors are not there to be mean or unreasonable. They are doing an important job and might even be able to offer an unbiased view of your work that will make you a better writer, or at the very least be more open to criticism.
It might be that you realize you hate this person and just cannot work with them anymore. This is also helpful. If an editor isn’t supportive, open to suggestions, willing to listen and respectful of the work, time to move on.
Get Paid for Writing
If you submit work to a publication on spec, hoping to be hired for future work, I suggest you send your rate with the submission with the understanding that you will be paid. It is your job as a writer to make this clear, because if a magazine can get your work for free, they will! It’s not illegal, as far as I know, not to pay a writer who sends in unsolicited work.
State that you have submitted the work for consideration and ask who you send your invoice to should your work be chosen. Contracts are not used with our magazine, and there hasn’t been a problem so far, but if you’re new to a publication I suggest you at least ask about contracts or have one ready to send if you feel you need that assurance.
Editors should be open to receiving queries from writers. IF they’re not, then that’s just surprising . . . and odd, because after all, the content supply needs to keep flowing.
I always welcome questions, story suggestions and submissions. We might not always use them, or even get back to you. This is just because of the volume we sometimes get or our busy schedules. It’s not a rebuff, and please don’t take it personally. I would invite you to send another email or message me, or even phone me. Then I can apologize profusely for my scatter brain and it might result in me asking you to write an article cos I feel so guilty.
Can Writers Submit to More Than One Publication?
Writers own their work and they have copyright and it’s their intellectual property, but editors have control over how the work is presented in its final form. Though you own the work, it is – of course – best practice to have your work paid for and printed in one published medium at a time. Many editors don’t accept previously published work – unique and fresh is preferred, and magazines don’t want to get embroiled in conflicts over articles.
We will accept older work if it is still relevant and can be altered enough not to be recognized by readers. Sometimes magazines will ask a writer to sign a contract, promising not to publish their work in any other medium for a year or so after printing. This means NOT in print, online, in an anthology, or on your website. This is just good practice. You want to build a reputation as a writer, and loyalty to each publication is paramount.
How to Build on Your Writer-Editor Relationship
It’s important to have an original voice, a perspective when you write, and though it’s good to be able to write on any subject, it helps to focus on what interests you as a writer and become the expert in that field. You become the go-to person for that subject when an editor is looking for a writer for a topic.
We DO appreciate when writers share their articles or snippets of the article leading back to our website on their social media channels and help spread the word about our free subscription – the more subscribers, the more ads we can attract, and the more writers we can hire.
We include bylines with our articles, a contributors page with short bios about the writers and links to websites so we can help promote you as a writer. Just don’t start charging us more when you become famous!
Of course, the most important way to build trust with an editor, is:
- Send them a bottle of wine — just kidding, really it’s…
- Meet deadlines no matter what!
Deadlines are terrifying to editors and managing editors. The expected article doesn’t arrive . . . and the magazine layout is affected as the editor, managing editor, publisher, and designer scramble to choose a suitable article in the files, or have to contact another writer to whip something together just in case, or the editor now has to drop everything to write something to fit. Pages might need rearranging, new images sourced, the contents page and contributor pages and cover are affected — and the last weeks or days before files go to print are stressful enough without that added burden.
What Happens After Submitting an Article?
When we receive an article, we expect it to be as close to perfect as possible. We want it to be one hundred percent original, have been thoroughly researched, fact-checked and contain accurate quotes. If you don’t already record your interviews, I would suggest you start. Digital recorders are inexpensive and you can store digital files of interviews if sources or quotes need to be checked. Biggest tip – extra batteries! Those suckers burn through batteries.
If material is referenced, we would appreciate tables, graphs and charts to back it up and use with permission. Images are so important, and if a writer can ask the person they are interviewing for photos to include in the article – that is stellar! It means we don’t have to try and find images to represent the article, or bother interviewees ourselves, but have access to approved images from the source.
Basically, any sources or information you have to help support what you’ve written should be submitted along with the article. Editors try to fact check, but we don’t have access to your recordings or online research you did, so make sure everything is accurate and if you think it would be helpful, include links to websites or publications used as references.
After an article reaches me and it’s ready for insertion into the magazine, I proofread it. I generally won’t get back to the writer once I have the article . . . I will only make small edits for spelling, verb tense, or grammar etc. if necessary, on which the writer need not be consulted.
If the writer requests that I send edited copy to them, I will . . . but not for debate. If there are significant changes required, I would let the writer know and send a revised copy for their approval. Reasons for big changes usually have to do with space, but there have been times when a lot of structural editing was required, and I want to share that with the writer so they have the changes for future reference. They may want to submit a tweaked version to another publication down the road, and any corrections I make might help them with that submission.
It may just have been that we made a list of points into bullets for easier reading, or shortened sentences or added subheadings to break up a longer piece. Sometimes headings are added or changed to create a hook. I tend to be a sucker for alliteration or a pun – cheesy but fun!
Timeline of a magazine from planning to print
We gather the team together up to a year prior to plan a few issues ahead, consider each season, make educated guesses as to what will be in vogue, review past issues and what topics need to be revisited, sketch out a rough list of articles and potential writers. We plan the cover—to suit the season, but also leave room for developing stories or advertisers that want to pay for a cover.
The printing house needs at least five weeks heads up that we are sending print files, and they need to receive print files about roughly 2-3 weeks before expected print date.
We asked writers to submit articles for the January issue by mid November at the latest. That gave us a month to coordinate articles, edit, do layout, source images and finalize cover and proofread a few times before print files went to the printer. So we started handing out article assignments in September for the January issue.
We like to try and give our writers a month or two to conduct research and interviews, and write the articles. We like a bit of a cushion because we are all part-time freelancers and we need to work the magazine schedule in with our other jobs and responsibilities. Every issue can be a little different, but those deadlines, once set, have to be kept – the health and sanity of our Creative Director hangs upon it.
Queries, Questions & Quick Tips
It really is best for freelancers to research reputable publications, or submit to ones recommended by a fellow writer, and if you’re hired for a series of articles, make sure you’re paid immediately for the first before submitting any more—or get signatures on a contract.
You can request a style guide or submission guidelines from a publication, and these can often be found on the publication’s website. This can be a good way to make that first introduction as a writer. And if you are a regular contributor, following a style guide saves some time for the editor.
Though, I find it’s just easier for me to make any necessary style changes to freelance work as I go, as some writers are submitting work to several places, and it isn’t feasible to try and match different style requirements as each magazine will follow their own.
How do Writers & Editors Connect?
Places I’ve connected with potential contributors:
- Writing and editing association meetings or events
- The Pacific Ag Show or Horticulture Shows
- Industry events and media gatherings – news releases
- The BC Tech Summit
- SRCTec open houses
- I receive queries through my editor@modernag email, my business website, LinkedIn, or other social channels
We’ve also found writers on:
- UPwork Freelancer, or PWAC or similar freelance sites
- Online: If you have a strong online presence with sample works on your website and links to articles online, you’re much more likely to be contacted for your services.
- 100 Best Websites for Writers 2017 (from The Write Life)
If you are looking to write for a particular magazine, I suggest stalking them. Research their style, the subjects they cover, attend events they might attend, share what they publish, be visible and ready to introduce yourself and talk about what you’ve written (and where you are published).
Don’t be shy—I always hold back as a writer. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t take that first step—advice I still struggle with.
So, I wish you all good luck with your writing, and I want to invite your questions below or you can email me.