Thursday, September 09, 2004

 

In which I become a deputy in a world without sheriffs...

A wiser man than I once said that people don't read magazines for who they are, but for who they want to be. That in every magazine there is inherent promise to grant a wish. We all read Spy in the late 80s because we all wanted to feel hipper and cleverer than we actually were. We read Money because we wish we had some. We read Real Simple because we wish our lives were. Spend enough time with magazine editors, especially editors of a magazine with any kind of service element, and you will hear people talking about "the promise". What is the promise of this story? Have we got enough of the promise on the cover? The promise is that particular piece of verbiage that tells the reader not only what the story is about, but also what they can hope to have or become by reading it. Men's Health became the magazine phenom of the 90s because its editors knew that guys could never get enough of certain promises: Lose Your Gut, Banish Your Belly, Get Rock Hard Right Now, Have Great Sex Everyday Until You Die. The better you are at articulating the promise, the more people will buy your magazine and the happier you and your bosses will be, because your newsstand sales are up, as revenues are up and everyone's happy.

I got into magazines by virtue of a very different kind of promise. When I was a wee lad, I was a voracious reader. When I ran out of kids' books, the Great Brain, Encyclopedia Brown, even the musty old Hardy Boys books we had in the attic, I would read whatever my parents had on hand. Often as not, what they had was magazines, piled high in a big old wooden barrel in our living room. I got into the habit of reading to my mom while she did chores. I'd start with Women's Day or Better Homes and Gardens. I always saved Reader's Digest and its humor departments -- Laughter, the Best Medicine, Life in These United States (as opposed to some other United States) -- for last. My mom loveds those little nuggets. Oh, they made her laugh. "You know," she used to tell me. "Someone writes those for a living."

I pointed out that readers sent in the anecdotes for the Digest. "Yes," my mom countered, "but someone at the magazine polishes them up, makes them sound better, funnier. They get paid to play with words."

Paid to play with words.

It was compelling promise, especially for me. I loved words. Picked them apart, played off them, strung different ones together to see how they looked on a page, or hear how they sounded spoken aloud. The idea that you could make a living doing this was an arresting one, even at the age of 10.

And now, here I am, 25 years later. After a decade and a half of writing and editing, after playing with words for a variety of venues, some you've all heard of, some you haven't, I'm here.

I just accepted a job to be a deputy editor at one of the biggest magazines in the world. Trust me, you've heard of it.

It sounds like a dream job, and in many ways it is, but it is also a crazy one, requiring me to work with some truly odd folks: the thousands of ambitious people who write to me, in the mistaken belief that they are writers (trust me, they're not). My fellow editors. My boss. Myself. We all have our crazy moments, moments that anyone who is working in the industry will certainly understand, and anyone who isn't would no doubt be shocked to learn.

Either way, this is my attempt to cope with it all. To tell some hard and funny truths about this business, and maybe even to offer some useful advice that will help others.

But mostly, I just want to use this blog as another opportunity to work with words, in whatever way seems to suit me.

You're welcome to follow along.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead

Comments:
Well, it just didn't seem right that NOBODY had commented on (what appears to me to be) your very first blog posting. So, here I am, righting that wrong. Not that I have anything of value to say aside from "As usual, a good bit of stuff."

(And now I shall magically transport myself back to the future!)
 
Hey, Suldog. I was thinking the same thing. Wish the tag held the date as well as the time, so we could show we came back in time to comment. :)

Back to the post saga of Blaze....
 
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