Choosing a magazine

by | March 10, 2009

Before you decide to embark on a career in magazines, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Can you live on very little money?
  • Can you work without benefits?
  • Are you willing to spend two or more years in a job before getting the opportunity to express your creative ideas?
  • Will you be happy working as someone's assistant -- doing menial tasks like answering calls, making schedules and travel arrangements, and preparing expense reports -- for two or more years?
  • Can you work late nights, weekends, when you're sick, and with little vacation time?
  • Do you consider yourself a creative person who thinks of story and visual ideas and themes in the abstract, and is constantly inspired by daily life, events and news?
  • Do you regularly read books, newspapers and magazines?
  • Are you willing to continue your education, whether on the job or in the form of an advanced degree to pursue your goal of being an editor, writer etc.?
  • Are you thick skinned? Can you avoid taking things personally as you work towards a higher goal?
  • Are you persistent? Will you do anything (ethical) and any amount of work to get where you want?
If you can answer "yes" to all of these questions, then you're ready to pursue a career in magazines and will no doubt be a success at it. If you have answered "no" to any of these, don't bother trying to convince yourself. You might want to take a look at related industries or positions -- perhaps advertising, publicity, or marketing.

It's not all about the glamour

I have known too many young interns and aspiring editors who have been charmed by the seemingly glamorous, high profile lifestyles of jet-set editors mingling with celebrities and living a charmed life. If you look closely, however, you'll see that those very few editors that do live charmed lives have been around for many years, are brilliant and focused on what they do, know the business, know their readers, are innovators and have done enough schlepping and long hard nights to make cramming for finals look like spring break.

Know that as you start out, whether as an intern, an editorial assistant or a director's right hand, the closest you'll get to glamour is faxing it a document. So you'd better be certain that you are on the right track, or you'll just waste your time and end up changing directions. Keep in mind what one tough college professor once told me: look to your left, look to your right, then behind you and in front of you. Three of those four people won't be here next year.

A good percentage of people that start in this business leave pretty quickly. Some realize that the business is not what they expected, some can't deal with the poor compensation and others can't deal with the humbling aspects. They move on. But the ones that stick it out have a lot to gain -- if they're willing to put in some serious time.

Getting started

Before you start approaching the glossies, weeklies or other consumer publications, you have to examine your preferences and goals. Your job search will be more effective if you know what you want to do and can pinpoint the types of magazines you would like to work on.

Here are a few more questions to ask yourself:

    Do you like to write stories in a news style or more conversational style?
    This will determine whether you'd prefer a magazine like Time over something like Elle or Vanity Fair.

    Do you prefer to develop story ideas instead of writing?
    This is important because it decides whether you'll start on a writing career track or end up as an editor who assigns stories and develops relationships with writers.

    What topics interest you?
    Every magazine has its focus, whether it be relationships, music, fashion, arts, books, film, celebrity profiles, food, money, business, or something else. Think about what you reach for at a newsstand -- what interests you as a reader.

    Are you more interested in visuals?
    There are a number of places where you could work with art, photographers or as a stylist within the editorial realm. It's important to know whether you'd prefer to work on shoots and develop relationships with photographers, agents and models or if you'd like to work in graphics, setting up layouts.

    Once you've answered these questions, you should have a good idea of what types of magazines you'd like to work for and the specific career path that would suit you best. The next step is finding the information to help you get where you want to go. It's not easy to find, but it is out there. It's up to you to do the legwork.

Filed Under: Job Search


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