Stylist Live

Top tips for becoming a magazine editor from Stylist's Lisa Smosarski

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Harriet Hall
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We just can't wait for Stylist Live, our four-day festival of cocktails, culture, catwalks and conversation hosted by Edith Bowman and Dawn O’Porter on Thursday 15 – Sunday 18 October 2015.

If you buy a ticket for Friday 16th October, you can enrol in the School of Stylist and join Stylist's very own staff, as they impart their career wisdom, starting with editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski at 10.45am, followed by features director Lucy Foster, fashion director Alexandra Fullerton, associate editor (beauty) Joanna McGarry and's editor-in-chief Maggie Hitchins. 

In the final weeks running-up to the event, we've been revealing the top tips from the team to make it in the industry, to give you a sneak-peek of what's to come. 

This week, with only ONE WEEK to go until the big event, we spoke with Lisa Smosarski, Stylist’s editor-in-chief, and she told us her top tips for making it as a magazine editor.

There are many perceptions about what life is like for a magazine editor (mostly perpetuated by films like The Devil Wears Prada… I’ll point out now that it’s not a documentary) but the reality is somewhat different. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the best job in the world, but if you don’t start out with the right attitude you’ll find it hard to get to the top. Here are the lessons I learnt en-route.

Be kind.

One of the myths about editors is that if you want to be respected, make decisions and hit deadlines then you have to break some balls along the way (if you’ll pardon the expression). Sure, I’ve heard terrible stories about people being sworn at by sweating editors, or the print-outs of the stories they’ve just filed being ripped up in their faces, but it’s really not the way most of the world works. Like most things in life, I’ve found being kind is the way to go, because whoever wanted to work for an unpredictable, cursing nightmare? Treat people respectfully and with generosity and not only will you find that your working day is a whole lot nicer, but the results are better too. It’s also worth remembering magazine publishing is a VERY small industry. You simply can’t afford to get a reputation.

Don’t expect to be having manicures all day.

When people describe what they think life is like for an editor they imagine immaculate desks, vases of antique white roses, trips for blow dries and manicures and a car waiting outside to whisk you wherever you please. On my desk there is a banana, a jar of Marmite, and several to-do lists. I start work at 8.30am after commuting on the tube (where I usually proof copy), and eat Pret sandwiches for lunch like everyone else. I often end my day at 11pm still ploughing through work. I’m not complaining - I am treated to so many real privileges; from the chance to sit on the front row of catwalks of fashion shows in Milan and Paris, to meeting the Prime Minster, to communicating with half a million women every week. I have the opportunity to play in worlds that aren’t my own, but at the end of the day being a magazine editor is about running a business. There is a lot of work to do, a lot of responsibility to take on, pages to be read and people to manage. Which leads me to my next point…

Magazines are businesses.

Many people lose sight of the fact that most magazines are not philanthropic ventures. They can include genuinely philanthropic content, but they must also make money. As an editor you need to think about that. To balance your income streams against your outgoing spends. So although editing a magazine is creative, good editors also need business brains and to be able to see the bigger picture on behalf of the company they are making the magazine for. Even for the most experienced in the business, this can still be a shock when they take up the editor’s chair.

You will always work for your readers (and, like Lord Sugar, they can fire you!)

You cannot edit a magazine for yourself. You cannot edit a magazine for your friends. You can ONLY edit a magazine for the readers. This means listening to what they have to say and predicting what they want to read. Being an editor is akin to being a cod psychologist, I spend my whole day predicting how my readers feel and what they need to know more about. And like any job, the people you work for can fire you. If you stop delivering the right content and lose sight of the reader, they stop buying your magazine. And not many editors are still sat at their desks when their readers have told them where to go…

You are not an ambulance driver.

In the world of magazines we get very busy, very stressed and very self-important. But an old editor of mine once told me “You’re not an ambulance driver, nobody dies”, and this stuck with me. We have a choice about what stress to carry, about how much fuss to make, but we are the lucky ones. We have the opportunity to help people, to entertain and enlighten, but we go home at night without having had the responsibility of life and death. This perspective is essential – to your sanity but also to how you perceive the world at large, and most importantly in remembering to recognise all the other brilliant people in the world who really do deserve the limelight.

It's only one week to go until Stylist Live and you can meet Lisa in person, and find out everything you need to know to become the next big magazine editor.

Get your tickets here...but be quick, they're selling-out fast. 

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Harriet Hall

Harriet Hall is a former Stylist contributor.