Sassy Magazine was the first magazine I ever subscribed to. It was 1990, I was in eighth grade, and somehow reading that magazine felt a little bit like talking to the cool older sister that I didn't actually have. Fourteen years later, I've acquired enough of a writerly vocabulary to say that Sassy had a clear and personal narrative voice; at the time, the best I could come up with was that the staff talked like real people. Part of what made Sassy special that way was that all of the magazine content was signed (that's incredibly unusual in fashion and lifestyle magazines) and each staff writer had a distinct personality. I knew the difference between Karen Catchpole's writing and Christina Kelly's, I knew that Mike and Margie hated each other's taste in music, and I knew that the point of the Cute Band Alert wasn't actually that the band members were cute.
And running the whole show, in some manner of speaking, was Jane Pratt. Every issue had an editorial by Jane, telling some story about the staff or explaining some aspect of the magazine publishing process. Jane's editorials were chatty and personal, and I loved feeling like I was peeking backstage. Jane Magazine, the grown-up version of the old Sassy, still runs very similar editorials by Jane Pratt, and whenever I read Jane (I don't subscribe, but it's an airplane-reading favorite of mine) I get a little bit of that old feeling back.
When I agreed to take over as Editor-in-Chief of Strange Horizons, one of the things I thought about was whether or not I wanted to write regular editorials. It wasn't one of the first things I thought of -- my first few thoughts on the issue were all on the lines of "my god, Mary Anne Mohanraj is an impressive act to follow" -- but eventually it came up. We don't necessarily need regular editorials, many magazines get by fine without them, but I think there's some value to that personal contact.
From there, though, I had to figure out what kind of editorials to write. I certainly didn't want to write one of those "check out what's in this issue" pieces that a lot of my other airplane-reading magazines have (Sunset, I'm looking at you); those are boring to read, and I can only imagine that they're even more boring to write. The Atlantic Monthly has only irregular editorial columns, but the magazine's managing editor has a monthly column of personal essays and commentary. Robert Silverberg's column in Asimov's is similar to Cullen Murphy's in The Atlantic, the only real difference being that Silverberg isn't actually on the Asimov's editorial staff. Every issue of Cook's Illustrated contains a piece by one of the magazine's editors, usually a Garrison Keillor-style meditation on life in rural New England that has little or no connection to cooking. Both Jane and Maxim have monthly short editorials that talk in equal parts about the backstage world of magazine production, details of the editor's personal life (or the personal lives of the staff members), and general social commentary. Most of the magazines I read regularly just don't have any editorial column.
Where that leaves me is with a lot of possible models and still no clear idea of which one to use. Model or not, though, I've staked out the third week of the month for editorials. I'm sure that I'll talk about magazine business from time to time. More often than not, though, you'll probably just get a monthly column on whatever's on my mind. I'll try to make it interesting.
Copyright © 2004 Susan Marie Groppi
Susan Marie Groppi is Editor-in-Chief of Strange Horizons.
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