The Monthly Work Cycle of a Freelance Magazine Editor

Monday, January 06, 2020

As I sat thinking about how I’m going to start organizing my daily calendar for the new year, it also occurred to me that readers may be interested to know what a day in the life of a freelance magazine editor looks like.

No day ever looks the same. The magazine world runs in production cycles, so each week looks a little different. Also, the majority of the staff of the magazine I work for are remote. Working from home has pros and cons, as I’m sure you can imagine. I get paid a set salary per issue, and can also pay myself out of the editorial budget if I have to write individual articles (besides the editor’s letter). This position offers no benefits, however, so it is strictly contract work.

I thought it would be simplest to break down the cycle by week:

Week of Jan. 6, 2020. This week, writers and photographers are busy tackling the assignments for the February issue I gave them over the last few weeks, and we are behind due to the December holiday. This is the week I focus on things I need to write myself, such as the calendar of events in the back of the magazine (which also requires me to request photos), an article I write each month called “Renee Wants to Know,” the editor’s letter, a nutrition article I haven’t been able to assign and several advertorial profiles of medical professionals for a special advertising section on health and wellness. We also have our monthly staff meeting on Jan. 9 at a local coffee shop, where I’ll distribute the finalized editorial budget to our sales staff so they can make any last minute sales calls.

Week of Jan. 13, 2020. The creative designer takes my final editorial budget, coupled with the final page count from the publisher, and puts together thumbnails of the magazine. I check over the thumbnails on my end to make sure all stories are accounted for in the layout. I will continue writing and editing things assigned to myself in this week. Because we have a special advertising section, I will make revisions on the profiles from the advertisers as they come in and upload them to the Dropbox account we use to share content as they are finalized. I’ll also edit stories as they come in from writers and upload them, as well as request invoices from the writers. As photographers send me their photo galleries for stories, I’ll make a selection of five or six images and upload them to the assigned story folders in Dropbox, which is how our designer gets everything to lay out the magazine. Because of the way the month falls, I will most likely be proofreading the first few drafts of the magazine over the weekend, and sending my edits to our designer to make.

Week of Jan. 20, 2020. We are scheduled to go to the printer Jan. 21. I will be looking at the final proofs of the magazine this week and making sure everything looks good. I also take one last look at the PDFs of pages as the entire book is being uploaded to our printer. During this week I also ask any writers for invoices that I may not have received and submit them to the publisher. This is a good week to file all my e-mails related to this issue and look ahead at my Excel spreadsheet where I keep my departments organized for each issue. My goal will be to have stories for the March issue assigned by Jan. 24.

Week of Jan. 27, 2020. I continue filing e-mails and plugging in any story holes for the March issue and respond to e-mails from writers and PR professionals I may have put on the back burner. I'll also file future story ideas in a folder or into my Excel spreadsheet with the corresponding issue.

Then I'll start the process all over again for the following month.

I hope this post has been helpful for you. I’d also love to hear your observations about this type of cycle and any questions you may have.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and magazine editor who also blogs at Finished Pages.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--Yikes! How do you get any of your personal writing done, with this kind of schedule?

The only question I have is this: where do I stand in line as I wait to bow down to you? ;)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Oh, I forgot to add something.

There used to be a phrase. It's probably no longer used--it was popular when I was much much younger. People would be broached about giving to a charity and they'd say, "I gave at the office."

THIS is why you feel like a slug... why you have trouble making headway on your own writing. It's because you literally gave at the office. You write your fingers down to a nubbin every month... and then you begin the process all over again.

I will be interested in hearing if anyone has suggestions on how you can squeeze out some time for your own writing. Sue? You have jobs you MUST work on--many times you have no choice about the timeline. How do you eek out some time to work on something else?

Seriously. How in the world do you do it, month after month?

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux--You see my pain! After staring at the computer so much, writing copy, headlines, subheads and photo captions, I feel depleted when it comes time to work on my own stuff. We don't have an assistant editor to help with those things and I'm not sure there is a budget for one unless I really get vocal. I do know there are some ways I can squeeze my writing in. I could either get up super early like Margo has been doing (but this doesn't work when I have my occasional sleepless nights) or carve out a specific time in the evening where I shut my office door. That may be what I start doing, because I'm not much of a morning person before coffee. Or I could head out in the evenings for the library or something like that where I'll have minimal distractions. I'm going to tinker around with my schedule this week and see what I can come up with. Thank you for recognizing that working this type of job from home isn't all fun and games!

Amber Polo said...

Great thanks!!!!
I became the editor of a regional magazine 2 issues ago when the owner/editor died and there was no access to her files. I had a fantasy that with organization it would be come easier. Ha!
I already wrote a lot of stories, sold ads in part of the area, and handled distribution, so I had some clue and knew a lot of the writers and clients - not not all. The most interesting part was sending blank invoices to some advertisers asking then to send the "same amount as the last issue" but to my home address - and they did.
Is there a support group for regional magazine editors??
Is there a

Angela Mackintosh said...

Renee ~ This is exactly why I didn't write creatively for ten years when we were doing monthly ezine issues, plus a membership group and additional pdf publication, and the regular newsletters, contests, etc, and working as the art director, advertising, and all departments rolled into one. I was so tired of staring at a screen that the last thing I wanted to do was write! Now that I'm thinking about it, maybe handwriting would work when there's too much computer time. But there's also the burnout that comes with it, and you're taking on a LOT. Working from home is no joke and requires discipline, superior organization, and drive. I'm so proud of you for rockin' your magazine editing job (now two editing jobs!). I hope you can squeeze in some writing time and don't do what I did. Maybe record your voice while going on walks or use Google Docs on your phone in the restroom (those are two things I do! Lol) Good luck with your schedule this month!

Amber ~ Wow! That's a crazy story about the checks! Sorry to hear about the previous editor's passing.

It's also a good reminder to have a system in place to easily pass things along should something happen. One of our bloggers (I think Crystal?) wrote about that recently, and now I'm reminded of it again.

Renee Roberson said...

Amber--Goodness, and hats off to you! You are in charge of a little bit of everything. Wow! I'm fortunate that I don't have anything to do with the publishing side--no selling ads, collecting payments for ads, or handling distribution. It really is a lot harder than a looks, isn't it? We do need a support group!

Angela--Yes! I can see why you weren't writing creatively for so many years. Working so many hours on the computer depletes your energy. I keep finding myself sitting down to work on my podcast scripts at night, and I just give up because I'm so tired I don't even know where to start. Blogging has been helpful because it allows me to be creative, so I'm trying to keep up with it here and on my personal blog. Other than that, I've got to figure something out!

Margo Dill said...

Renee: I just read your comment here, and my suggestion, because I suffer from the exhausting at night too, is to do it in the morning. Not sure when you have to start your day, but if you can even work in 20 to 30 minutes BEFORE it all gets started for your freelancing, it might be helpful. :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I like a local coffeehouse. I can sit there, sipping on cheap tea, and I almost always have good luck with my word count.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I also think that part of the problem with working from home is that you are always at the office. Working on the magazine. Working on your own work. It makes turning to something else more difficult.

Good luck finding a system that works for you!

Renee Roberson said...

That is so true about working from home and having a hard time separating yourself from work. I tried a new method the last few days by writing down a small list of action items in my planner and included my 1,000-word podcast script goal. I met it both days. Hmm . . . surely it can't be that easy? We'll see what happens during production week!

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