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What a Magazine Editor Wants 

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Stuart Rock
The Editor-in-Chief of Business is GREAT

Stuart Rock’s career in magazine publishing began with a love of writing, before the invention of blogs and before Time went digital. If there’s one thing he knows after almost 30 years in the business, it’s publishing. Currently, Stuart is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Business is GREAT, and has spent the last three decades editing business-to-business magazines. In 1996, he co-founded Caspian Media, a leading agency in print and digital B2B publishing.

Stuart joined us on Mash Blog to discuss the murky future of print magazines, how to attract and retain readers, and the dos and don’ts of starting your own publication.

Amanda Pleau: To start, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in publishing?

Stuart Rock: I always loved writing, and meeting people. It was chance rather than design that took me into B2B publishing.

I have been writing for magazines since 1986. The first magazine I was appointed editor of was Director, the monthly magazine of the Institute of Directors, in 1989. I was the editorial director of Caspian Media for 17 years. I was the founder-editor of Real Business in 1997 and led the creation and development of many other business magazines, including Real Deals, Business Voice and Professional Engineering.

Amanda: Do you think content available online (news sites, e-zines, blogs, etc.) influences the existence of “the magazine”?

Stuart: The amount of online content makes it much harder for a magazine to command the attention of previously regular, if casual, readers. Just look at the passengers on any train. They are looking at screens, not reading magazines any more. They should not try to stand out purely by design and production gimmicks.

Amanda: BuzzFeed’s Editor-in-Chief told The Atlantic that enticing headlines can’t make a bad post popular, defending their use of what is commonly thought of as clickbait. Should increasing the audience be a consideration in creating content, or is it more important to stay true the editor’s vision?

Stuart: An editor with a vision and an understanding of his/her readers will create content that draws them in and which they will want to share. Every editor has always used editorial devices to entice readers—I regularly used lists (usually based on random numbers—”the 27 things you need to know when selling your business”) and rankings, and put them on the cover of the magazine. Just because something is designed to attract traffic doesn’t make it inconsistent with the readers’ interests.

Amanda: It seems almost anyone with a soapbox and a cursory knowledge of WordPress can start their own magazine online. Last year so many digital magazines launched but only lasted for one or two issues. What are some of the goals to keep in mind when launching a new publication online?

Stuart: The economic and market structures of digital publishing do appear to be against online publications.They can be clever, beautiful, highly creative—but will they ever make any money? The goal to keep in mind is: how will this make me any money? If you can’t figure that out, then you are doing it for fun/pleasure/charity.

Corporations can produce them as part of an overall marketing/communications strategy. The magazine, with all its qualities of tangibility, serendipity, editorial choice and variety, is actually quite an artificial construct in the digital space.

If you are starting your own publication, you need people to whom you can confidently communicate your vision and your editorial requirements. From my experience, it’s better to have a small group of in-house staff as that gives you a corps around which to have esprit! Then, pick your initial freelancers with whom you share a cultural bias.

On the business side:

Amanda: Enable comments or disable online comments?

Stuart: Enable and moderate comments, actively, relentlessly. Strong and interesting comments mean social engagement, which requires understanding of readers. It’s no different from the days of responding to readers’ letters. Many were mad, but all deserved a reply and some deserved publication.

Amanda: What publishers/publications have your attention these days?

Stuart: In truth, the ones who keep my attention are those who were print media first and who have remained relevant in that format while having an intelligent digital presence. Monocle continues to do a remarkable job, as does the Economist.

Amanda: Do you have any advice for new writers to find reputable publications and build relationships with editors?

Stuart:

  • Write good blogs.
  • Be more than just your own words: create intelligent links, or a useful podcast.
  • Create a clear identity on a social media channel.
  • Editors want writers who can turn things around fast, reliably, accurately, who bring their own, extra dimension to the publication, and who show nous and imagination in their ideas.

Amanda: Our conversation about publishing turned out to be not that different to a conversation about any kind of start-up. In order for a magazine to succeed, it needs dedicated, talented employees. Stuart’s editorial advice is pertinent not only to writers starting their careers but also those who are founding new publications. All editors are seeking the same thing: individuals with unique perspectives who work hard to ensure their writing meets the needs of the publication.

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Amanda is a junior judge and a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program in Creative Writing. Her blog Misadventures in Portland received widespread local acclaim and lead to opportunities writing for the USM’s Office of Public Affairs and the Portland Phoenix. Follow Amanda on her blog: amandajennifer.blogspot.com

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