Magazine Features: How Do They Work?

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While Columbia doesn’t have a magazine concentration in the Journalism MA program, per se, I’ve found (with the help of my professors) some clever ways of getting experience writing and editing for magazines, through conferences, assistantships, and classes.

Plus, this summer, as part of being an editorial assistant for DEMO, the college’s alumni magazine, I wrote a huge feature piece on comedy guru Dino Stamatopoulos (’87), a Columbia College Chicago alumnus extraordinaire. So, for those of you who are wondering how an idea goes from someone’s head to the pages of a glossy magazine, here you go:

Step One: Pitch Meeting(s)

I wasn’t here for this section of the brainstorming process, since DEMO starts coming together six months or so before it finally reaches the press.  But essentially, alumni relations and DEMO editors come together to create an idea pool. Someone came up with the seed idea for my story, (There’s this famous and successful alum, Dino, who works with other famous and successful alum…) and after my managing editor assigned me some background research, I pitched her a few angles of my own. She liked my ideas, so she gave me the story!

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Step Two: Research, Research, Research

Thus began the interview process. Writing for the alumni magazine meant that I had most of the contact information I needed to get a hold of the folks in Hollywood. But that didn’t guarantee me access.

Once I snagged my first source (with a younger alum who responded right away to an email request for an interview), my job got much easier, since I could explain to the other sources that one of their cohort already spoke with me. Also, I got over my fear of calling the cell phone numbers of famous people. Some of them are very nice. Others just won’t call you back. Fair enough.

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Step Three: Write Like Crazy

And then keep writing, and then re-write, and then re-write some more. My editor anticipated that this feature and associated sidebars would be huge, but we didn’t know it’d end up being a 10-page spread. This is gigantic in magazine terms, the biggest piece DEMO has ever run. So it was vital that I kept my writing tight and concise.

I think I did four drafts of the piece and worked with my managing editor and fellow editorial assistants—one of whom was the amazing, recently-graduated former Ambassador for the Creative Writing – Fiction MFA program Chris Terry—to fine tune the piece and make it sing.

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Step Four: To Design

At this point, my story still looked like a Microsoft Word document (because that’s what it was…), so it needed to go to design to let them work their creative magic on my piece and turn it into a magazine feature that looks enticing and fits harmoniously into the rest of the publication.

Also, sometime while I was busily writing, my editor assigned a photographer in L.A. to snap some great pictures of the subjects in their animation studio. No way *I* took those pics…

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Step Five: Proofing and Printing

It’s important to proof carefully at this point. Sometimes your text gets a little mixed up when it’s transferred to its final layout. And after proofing many times (we all proofed the magazine multiple times and sent it to an outside proofreader), the magazine is finally ready to go to the printer. The printer sends you a sample (or proof) to make sure everything looks good on paper.

Then, several weeks later, you get to hold your very own magazine!

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Step Six: Get it Online

Putting the magazine online takes some patience, coding skills, and once again, the magic touch of the design team. I also wrote some supplemental web exclusives.

It’s a lot of work to write a feature, but it’s so worth it. I’m thrilled that my work this summer was selected to be the cover story for this issue of DEMO and happily surprised to see a link to my story on the college website’s homepage! I can’t wait to write more features.