Recently the editor of a popular magazine accepted one of my stories for publication. She was full of kind words about it and how much she liked it. “In fact, we like your story so much,” she said, “that we want to put it in a more prominent position in our magazine.”
After the first flush of euphoria faded away, I got curious about this new aspect of publishing I had found out rather by accident.
- Was there such a thing as “a more prominent position” in a magazine?
- Should I feel proud?
- Should I, perhaps, take this opportunity to ask for more money?
- Or should I settle for lesser payment in return for the prestige of a highly visible placement?
I decided to put the issue up to greater minds than my own.
Editors and publishers
“Interesting question,” says Moira Allen, publisher of the popular website Writing-World.com for writers and a prolific author of numerous articles and ebooks. “In a sense, the placement of an article is important. The closer to the front of the magazine the article is placed, the more importance it is considered to have. Editors realize that readers start at the front—and they may or may not make it all the way to the back. So articles that are considered the most significant, attention-getting, worthwhile or important are placed at the front or center. Conversely, less important, shorter articles, fillers etc. will be placed further on in the issue. Therefore one can assume an article placed farther back in a magazine is considered less significant than one that opens the issue.”
Diane Redfern, publisher of Connecting, an online magazine for solo travellers, is not so emphatically sure. “I suppose placement is important,” she says carefully. “In my magazine, feature articles have more prestige and pay more than short Reader Reports and Travel Tales.”
And Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, editor of BullSpec, a fiction magazine, doesn’t agree to any great extent at all. He suggests, “Magazine readers tend to read the cover and the main table of contents. Whether an article is on page 10 or page 40, I don’t think that’s a big deal.”
However, Montgomery-Blinn’s views may well be in the minority with most other publishers and editors being in consensus on the importance of article placement. “Usually we give the best locations to the topics we feel have the broadest appeal, and fit the other articles around them,” says Helen Tovey, editor of Family Tree Magazine.
David Peters, editor of e-zine Fried Fiction that publishes serialized fiction, shares this sentiment. “Yes, I think placement is important. Less so, when you have fewer articles to review. Also, it depends on the media. On the web, the readership will be less patient and will be more likely to give up if they don’t find what they are looking for right away.”
Similar views are held by Leon Ogroske, erstwhile editor of the now folded Writers’ Journal for writers. “Depending on the publication, placement of an article within the publication may garner more attention—if, perhaps, it is the first article in a magazine. Some readers may not get beyond the first few articles before losing momentary interest.”
Niche trade magazines not directly related to literature also seem to concur with this. “The most prestigious position is the first, lead article,” says Edward Bishop, editor of Professional Tester, a magazine for computer software professionals. “Advertisers pay a premium for early placement and most editors would want to put their strongest material there. The closing article is the next most prestigious, followed by the center spread.”
Henry Saley, publisher and editor of Horizon Magazine, a small humour publication, thinks that the size of the magazine matters and article location is not so important for small press. “My magazine is small enough that any placement gets noticed. My readers generally read from cover to cover. That would differ in a larger magazine where the first pages would be read more frequently. Then again, that would differ if the magazine is divided into various sections to which readers turn.”
Location certainly seems to play an important, if not critical, part in the overall scheme of the magazine. Mary Cummings, editor of Work Your Way, a magazine for entrepreneur mothers, further states, “Article placement will depend on the genre of the magazine. The editor will have an overall theme for each issue which will have a bearing on it.”
So there clearly are some unwritten rules about where an article may appear in a publication. But is it always so cut-and-dried?
“No, there are exceptions,” Allen cautions. “A magazine may have a particular layout with respect to certain types of articles, say, travel features, health features, fashion features etc., that will always appear in certain locations in every issue. It’s no indication of the value of the piece.”
Bishop agrees. “It is not always a simple progression: the editor will also take into account the relationship between the article and its predecessors and advertisements, if any.”
Tovey continues, ‘The best articles are not always placed all at the front of the magazine, with the lesser ones appearing later on. I do try and keep an interesting read or two for nearer the back of the magazine too, so people retain their interest throughout.’
Jim Tucker, Assistant Editor of Underground Voices, a dark literary ezine, is of the opinion most editors make decisions based on the flow of content, especially for print magazines. “They want the reader to feel like the stories flow easily from one to another, so writers with similar writing styles or themes are grouped together. Having said that, the first story is usually an indicator of what the editors like best.”
“We place the stories how they best flow together,” echoes Julie Ann Dawson, editor of Bards and Sages Quarterly, a magazine devoted to science fiction and fantasy. “What is important for us is the stories are in an order that makes sense and allows one to compliment the next. They aren’t placed in order of importance.
The concept of prominent article placement is more important for newspapers and websites. With a magazine, a reader may read the entire thing cover to cover. But with a newspaper or a website, people tend to skim headlines or cherry pick certain things. In such cases, you always want to be what is called ‘above the fold’, which is an old newspaper reference to how a newspaper is folded and placed on a rack.”
Allen disagrees partially. “Online, I doubt there is nearly as much attention paid to placement. If you’re running an ezine, the only issue really is how you arrange the table of contents, because one clicks through to an article; they aren’t arranged one after another. On Writing-World.com, I post our list of current articles alphabetically to remove any impression I am ranking them as being more or less important.”
However, this does depend on the format of the e-zine. Some, like the Writing World newsletter are simple text-based click-throughs. Others, like Bards & Sages Quarterly, are almost clones of a traditional paper-based format of magazine with pictures, colors, fonts and styles.
Other editors of ezines have other techniques dictated by how the ezine functions. “With my magazine I don’t pay more for where the article is placed. Each issue has a content flow and I wouldn’t want to disrupt that,” confirms Kirsten Edwards, editor of The Gift Of Stitching, another PDF-style magazine.
What can be done
Is there anything writers can do about this? The most obvious—yet most difficult—thing to do is write and submit a brilliant article. Don’t settle for simply catching the eye of the editor. Wow them and woo them, thus automatically winning the most prominent placement.
Another method is to study back issues of the magazines carefully, become familiar with its departments and columns, and tailor your article to fit into the place you’d prefer. Also try to dangle a carrot by promising to offer a second article soon.
Many magazines struggle to strike the right balance between regular contributors without looking like they’re getting boring, repetitive and predictable; and risking turning away loyal readers by running new contributors with no previous experience but fresh new angles. Since the editor has already seen your work and accepted it for publication, it means they are clearly happy with where you fit into this scheme of things and will be more willing to give you a little leeway.
Different types of magazines may offer other ways. “On Fried Fiction, when an author updates their story by adding a new episode, it goes to the top of the list. This encourages authors to generate more content, so they are placed higher on the site,” reveals Peters.
Negotiating for better placement
You could openly negotiate for a better placement. This involves arming yourself with the right information before you start, as much as the actual negotiation process.
For example, assess yourself:
- Do you know your strengths and your USP?
- Do your skills fill a gap in the market?
- Are you an expert?
Provide the editor with an undeniable reason to accept you as the best person to have that position in the magazine.
Then assess the market:
- Does a certain department’s requirements appear particularly difficult and need a specialist?
- Is the column dependant on season or time-critical?
In such a case, competition is likely to be less. Align your strategy with these factors and focus on selling the aspects that will appeal to the editors.
During the negotiations, be polite but persuasive, be forthright, but sensible. Try to come across as a person who sincerely believes a deal can be worked out and is willing to invest time and effort to make that happen.
However, a writer is limited by the extent to which they can be pro-active. In some cases, lobbying for a better placement may not even be an option.
Says Allen, “It’s never the author’s decision. The editor of a magazine decides what will lead in that issue—what’s the topic article, the current controversy, the big issue, the attention-getter.”
This jibes well with Ogroske’s own opinion. “Usually, an editor would not allow a writer to wheel and deal on this matter, so I don’t think most writers should worry themselves over article placement.”
Does this mean authors should be willing to settle for less money if their articles appear in the sought-after spaces?
“Absolutely not,” says Theodore Q. Rorschalk, CEO of Total Quality Reading, an online fiction magazine. “As a writer, I would want as much money as I can get regardless of the location of the story.”
“I wouldn’t expect or accept a lower price for a better placement, because placement is an editorial decision,” advises Allen. “Placement tends to be based on the value assigned to the article. So, a lead article should get more money simply because it’s considered a better, more important article than those farther back in the magazine. The less important an article, chances are the less it will be paid. So ‘front of the book’ should also mean ‘top pay’—it’s not even a question of an exchange.”
She adds, “No editor worthy of respect would swap positioning for the opportunity to pay less for an article. At this point in the process, the goal is to get the attention of the readers, not worry about what you’re paying the writers. Writers should and generally are paid based on the merit of the piece—and the merit of the piece will influence where it is placed.”
Ogroske agrees. “If it really is a matter of contention, the authors would have to ask themselves if money is more important than placement or vice versa. It would become a personal issue.”
“I don’t make deals on story placements in Fried Fiction,” assents Peters, a fact that is also endorsed by both, Rorschalk, “We pay all our writers the same, regardless of where on the site their story appears in TQR,” as well as by Tovey, “We wouldn’t trade lesser payment for a more prominent location.”
However, as with every opinion, this, too, finds a contradiction in Bishop who believes the answer depends on the circumstances. “If your objective is to have your article read by as many people as possible, it may indeed be worth negotiating on other points to obtain the lead position.”
Edwards gives this a nod as well. “If I were a writer and wanted the magazine promotion, I would definitely accept lesser payment for more prominent article space.”
And Montgomery-Blinn adds, “Getting a mention on the cover would be something I would take less payment for.”
Bargain or not, it really is up to you, the writer, to decide which is more important to you—money, glory or both—and whether you want to—or even need to—compromise on one in return for the other. However, the significant thing to remember is that at the end of the day, your article has been published and you’ve been paid for it. Surely that is satisfying in itself, no matter if your name appears at the top or bottom of the list of contents or buried somewhere down the middle!
About the author:
Devyani Borade writes on the humour and pathos of everyday life. Her fiction, nonfiction and art have been published in magazines across the world. Visit her website Verbolatry at http://devyaniborade.blogspot.com to contact her and read her other work.
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2. 8 Tips to Maximize Your Freelance Writing Earnings (article)
3. 12 Sure-Fire Ways to Make Yourself an Unpopular Freelance Writer (article)
4. KISS — Keep It Simple, Stupid! (article)
5. Advertising – Does a Freelance Writer need it? (article)
6. 3 Ways to Know Your Freelance Writing Market (article)
7. The Golden Opportunity of Advertising Yourself—for Free (article)