Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Many new and aspiring writers don’t know that there are three categories of magazines: consumer, trade and custom. That means more publications and editors in need of contributors—great! But how do you get started? Let’s look at the different types:

Consumer: These are the magazines already on your radar. They’re the glossy titles that fill newsstands and pile up in doctors’ waiting rooms. You’ll find subcategories like health, women’s, men’s, sports, tech, personal finance, decor (or shelter, in industry-speak), etc. Major publishing companies own several consumer magazines across subcategories. For example, Rogers Media publishes Chatelaine, Flare, Maclean’s, Hello! Canada, MoneySense, Sportsnet and other titles. There are many smaller publishers out there too, with anywhere from one magazine to a dozen. Pay rates range accordingly, from as low as 10 cents a word to $1 a word or more. Check out my tips for pitching consumer mags.

Trade: These magazines serve a profession or an association (in the U.S., they’re often called “association magazines” or “organization magazines”). Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at the breadth—there are magazines for teachers, veterinary technicians, contractors, hair stylists, accountants, café owners, graphic designers…you get the idea. These publications are rich hunting grounds for writers, especially those with expertise in a certain field. The tricky part is getting your hands on them, since they aren’t available on newsstands. Google, your circle of friends and your city’s library system are good places to get started. Canada’s major media companies publish trade mags in addition to their consumer titles, and there are companies that specialize in trade. Pay rates vary depending on the size of the publisher, and in my experience they’re on par with consumer magazine rates.

Custom: These publications are marketing tools for major brands—retailers, airlines, car makers, universities, etc. They have the look and feel of consumer magazines, and the articles are often general-interest pieces that don’t mention the brand at all. The editorial process is similar to that of consumer and trade mags, except there’s an added layer of approvals from your client’s client, and custom work is generally work for hire, i.e., the magazine buys all rights associated with the articles (though this is increasingly true for other mags, too). Custom mags are both easy and difficult to find. You probably receive some already, and you can find them at some major retailers. Others are only available to a brand’s customers. Several of Canada’s major media companies have a custom division, while other publishers do custom and nothing else. I’ve found the pay rates in this category a bit better on the lower end, starting from 50 cents a word up to $1 a word.

No matter which category you’re targeting, the same tips apply: do your research, pitch short pieces (say, for the front or back of the book) and build a relationship with an editor, working your way up to longer features. It’s not impossible for a new writer to break into a big magazine, but it’s a good idea to set your sights wider, especially while you’re building up your portfolio and improving your craft. The same caveats apply, too: read your contract and understand what you’re agreeing to.

Do you have tips on working with trade or custom magazines?
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Say “You’re awesome!” to your favourite writers and editors with fun, tasty and memorable gifts, and enter to win fabulous prizes (details below).

Words they can wear.
You’ll find a huge selection of gifts for word lovers on Etsy,including typography tees like this cheerful “Futura” top from mediumcontrol (about $30 + shipping). It also comes in blue, grey and brown.

Exotic caffeine.
At $39 per pound, the Hawaiian Kona beans imported by Quebec-based Cafés Volcanik are a splurge for that very, very special someone (or, um, yourself), but they also make super-smooth, bitterness-free lattes. Free Canada-wide shipping.

Something to toast the new year
. I’m not a whiskey drinker, but I have it on good authority (hi, Danielle!) that Writers Tears Pot Still Blend Irish whiskey ($47.75 at the LCBO) is much desired. Woody at the whiskey company kindly elaborates: “We triple distil our whiskey and do not use any peat in the process so you don’t get that smoky taste. In Writers Tears, there is an element of pot-still whiskey. This is distinctively Irish as it is a style of whiskey that is made in no other country.” Plus, the name alone…

A sweet spot to park that drink
. I featured Out of Print’s bookish T-shirts in my 2012 gift guide. Those are still available, and this year I’m also smitten with the online shop’s coasters. Themes include punked-up authors, library sign-out cards and sci-fi novels ($20 US per set of four + shipping).


A really great pen…
Wonder Pens specializes in writing instruments, including hard-to-find fountain pens, rollerballs, fineliners and more. This shop at 906 Dundas West in Toronto also offers fancy inks and beautiful paper. Shipping across Canada costs a flat rate of $7, or it’s free if you spend $100.


…and a superb notebook.
Paper notebooks still rank high on editors’ and writers’ wish lists. Peruse the colourful selection from Ecojot, which is local (products are made in Canada), eco-friendly (100% post-consumer recycled paper with veg-based inks) and charity-minded (the company donates school supplies to underprivileged kids). Ecojot’s App Ready notebooks work with Android devices and iPhones to digitize handwritten notes and share them via Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook and email. Version two of the ecojotConnect app is in the works – check out the Kickstarter campaign.


Pretty, functional desk stuff
. You’ve never seen pens, bookmarks and binder clips so easy on the eyes. Quills, a boutique in Hamilton, Ont., wraps its goods in beautiful chiyogami (handmade, screen-printed Japanese paper). Prices range from $3.50 for a trio of binder clips to $10 for a four-pack of pretty pens or eight magnets.


Health and well-being.
This idea came from writer and editor Susan Peters, who suggests yoga classes, massages or a stand-up desk for the achy desk dwellers on your list.

Magazines, of course!
Make someone happy and support Canadian magazines at the same time? Heck, yeah. Buy a gift subscription from the titles listed at Magazines Canada, or pick up a bunch of single issues at the newsstand and tie them up with a ribbon – all done!

: Editfish is giving away a holiday prize pack to one lucky reader! You could win a magnetic bookmark, pen set, binder clip set and magnet set from Quills (retail value $30) plus a spiral-bound App Ready notebook from Ecojot (retail value $14) featuring charming illustrations of Toronto landmarks on the cover (photo above).

TO ENTER: Recommend a useful tool, tip or resource for writers and editors in the comments below by Dec. 31, 2014, and your name will go in a random draw.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014
As a copy editor, I’ve worked with more than a dozen magazines, including consumer, custom, trade and web publications. No matter what category, magazines benefit from a detailed and up-to-date style guide. If you haven’t refreshed yours in a while—or if you don’t have one—this is a great project for the year-end holiday slowdown when you can’t get anyone to answer your emails anyway!

What is a style guide?

It’s a document that outlines the magazine’s “house style”—the preferences in punctuation, grammar, capitalization, word usage and more that editorial staff should follow. Using a style guide improves consistency, saves everyone time and supports your publication’s unique identity and feel. (Note that a style guide isn’t the same thing as writer’s guidelines, which offer broader direction to contributors pitching stories—see EnRoute’s example.)

What makes a good style guide?

I think style guides should offer enough direction without trying to cover everything. The definition of “enough” depends on your magazine; I’ve seen style guides as short as two pages, and some thick enough to require a binder. If you’re building your style guide from scratch, start with the basics that come up frequently, such as punctuation, numbers, capitalization, abbreviations, symbols and place names.

I don’t know anything about this stuff.

You don’t need to invent your own style—look at commonly used reference books such as Canadian Press Stylebook, Canadian Press Caps and Spelling, The Globe and Mail Style Book, Editing Canadian English, The Chicago Manual of Style and, for web stuff, The Yahoo! Style Guide. You could simply adopt one of the first three as your style guide, but you’ll still need to make some decisions, and you’ll want to make at least a few exceptions. Your magazine might even ban certain words and phrases because they’re overused, outdated or offensive—or just because the editor-in-chief can’t stand them. (See examples of words unwelcome at The Washington Post, New York Magazine and

What’s a lexicon?

Many magazines keep a list of words, on its own or as part of a style guide, to save editors the time and trouble of looking them up—or because the words aren’t in the dictionary. This unique vocabulary could include specialty lingo, brand names and celebrities’ names, for example. I love lexicons (yep, I’m a geek) because they’re like a snapshot of a magazine’s essence—a taste of what makes it special.

Where can I find examples of style guides and lexicons?

Here are just a few: The Economist, Faith Today, Film Matters, National Geographic, Carleton University and The Guardian. The ones from Vice and Buzzfeed are even kind of fun to read. You can also find specialized style guides, like the one from the Council of Science Editors. Check out, and Smashing Magazine for more thoughts on style guides.

Do you have thoughts on magazine style guides?

Wednesday, October 01, 2014


Hello, everyone! It’s been a while, but Editfish is back in action.

I'm kicking off October with a round-up of resources and events, since I keep hearing how much you like these. If you’ve come across something that may be handy to other editors and writers, please share in the comments.

Steven Pinker at the Toronto Reference Library

On the evening of Oct. 24, bestselling author Steven Pinker is talking about his new book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, at the Toronto Reference Library’s Bram and Bluma Appel Salon. The event is free, but you’ll need to reserve a ticket. (Can’t make it? The library often shoots videos – check the website later.)

INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair

Toronto is getting a brand-new book fair, coming up on Nov. 13 to 16 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The schedule is jam-packed with author appearances, workshops and cultural showcases. Tickets cost a very reasonable $15, with free re-entry; writers’ workshops start at $45 and include admission to the fair.

PWAC Twitter chats

All writers are welcome to take part in a new series of Twitter chats hosted by the Professional Writers Association of Canada. The free chats are planned for the first Thursday of each month at 11 a.m. (starting Oct. 2; follow hashtag #PWACchat). A short podcast or video serves as a starting point for the discussion – this week’s focus is a video by Steve Slaunwhite about copywriting techniques. (Disclosure: I’m the president of PWAC Toronto Chapter.)

Ladies Learning Code

Not just for ladies, this not-for-profit group makes learning to code fun and accessible. Courses are available in several cities across Canada. If you’re looking to build your computer skills (for example, learning HTML or CSS, or how to use Photoshop), check out the schedule.


I just learned about this from another freelancer, writer/photographer Corbin Smith, at PWAC’s recent Culture Days event about freelancing. Hacks/Hackers is an international grassroots journalism organization with a mission to create a network of hacks (journos) and hackers (technologists) to reboot journalism. It hosts meetups, workshops, demo days and more. Canadian chapters include Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
Thursday, February 20, 2014

Like many full-time freelancers, Allan Britnell combines steady gigs with shorter assignments. He’s the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, a bimonthly magazine for contractors and custom homebuilders. He also edits for ON Nature and the Smithsonian’s American Indian. As a writer, he contributes to Fresh Juice, Precedent, Connected and, and also works with corporate clients. Allan is president of the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors (CSME). When I asked Allan about his eclectic career, he replied, “My tired old joke is that I like to get around.”


Jaclyn: Tell me about your magazine career.

Allan: I have a B.A. in journalism from Ryerson. I graduated from the four-year program in 1996, with my final two years focused on the magazine stream. I stumbled into freelancing by accident. There was a recession and jobs were scarce, so I started writing for whoever would take me on. (My first paid assignment was a piece on local cemeteries for the Ajax News Advertiser.) I developed a diverse stable of clients, and I really liked the lifestyle of being my own boss, not having to commute, and working on a variety of subjects. Another of my tired old jokes is that my one and only “real” job was a four-year stint as an associate editor at Cottage Life. I did a three-month contract for them and, near the end of it, then-editor David Zimmer offered me a full-time position. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I learned a ton, but knew that after a couple of years I’d try my hand at freelancing again. (Of course, they didn’t know that until now…) I left in 2002, and my business has grown ever since.

How long have you been at Renovation Contractor?

We launched the magazine with our May/June 2011 issue. I was hired as managing editor in February of that year. When I started, we had a media kit, a URL and a printer lined up. We built a magazine from scratch in a couple of months. I was recommended to the publisher by a good friend (and career doppelganger), Jay Somerset. In 2013, we were nominated for magazine of the year at the KRW Awards for work we did in 2012, our first full year of publishing. We didn’t win, but it was still a nice pat on the back.

What do you do there?

I discuss story ideas and get input from our editor-and-chief, Jim Caruk, but his main job is building and renovating houses. I take care of the day-to-day stuff: develop the issue themes and story ideas, assign stories to our freelancers and guest columnists, coordinate photo shoots and layout concepts with our art director, Darrell Leighton, and copy edit and proofread all the copy. (Jay Somerset is also a freelance proofreader for us.) I also write most of the copy for our departments, and usually write at least one feature per issue. Renovation Contractor represents about 60% of my time.

What are your favourite aspects of your job?

I love what I do. I truly enjoy researching new topics and still get a kick out of those eureka moments when you come up with a witty turn-of-phrase or transition line. And the editing side means I get to develop story ideas and packages that I would enjoy reading. But most of all, it’s the work-life balance that I love. As I said earlier, I quickly realized that I was well suited for the freelance/work-from-home lifestyle. And now that I’m the father of two young girls, I wouldn’t trade that freedom and flexibility for anything. I walk them to school most mornings, but can still be at my desk by 9 a.m. I’m always first to volunteer to chaperone school events – and am often the only dad who does, so I usually get picked. And for most of our life together, my wife has worked in high-stress corporate jobs, so being home most of the time really helps us cope as a family. Of course, nothing’s perfect. For one, I certainly wouldn’t mind making more money than I do. And every year or two, yet another magazine that I work for disappears, and a couple long-time colleagues announce they’re giving up and taking jobs in PR or some other (better-paying) field.

How do your experiences as a writer inform your work as an editor, and vice versa?

The two roles constantly complement each other. I can’t tell you how many times a line or passage from a piece I’m editing has inspired an idea that I could write for another publication. And as an editor, I know how frustrating it is to have to clean up sloppy writing, so I always proof my copy several times before I hit send. And you can’t underestimate the value of having a variety of tasks to handle. If the creative juices aren’t flowing, I can switch to proofing or something else less mentally taxing. Not that I’m saying proofing is a brainless task, it’s just that I’ve been doing it for so long it’s more of a mechanical exercise.

Tell me about volunteering for CSME.

I’ve been on the board since 2009, and have been president for a little more than two years now. But to be completely honest, the wonderful and hugely talented Jessica Ross should be president. She’s been on the board longer and is endlessly generous with her time and expertise to the entire industry. She was about to have her baby when my predecessor, Bob Sexton, announced he was ready to move in. I was the most senior person left, so they gave me the fancy title.

What role do you think CSME plays in Canadian magazines?

Editing can be a very isolating job, particularly if you’re a freelancer. I joined CSME primarily for the social and networking aspects. But in my years on the board, I think we’ve put on some really interesting and informative career development panels and sessions. But at a recent board meeting, Kat Tancock – another incredibly talented person who’s extremely generous with her time – suggested that we really should take more of a stand on issues facing the industry, and I wholeheartedly agree. Step one towards that is an event we held in November on the future of interning and what recent legal rulings mean for the industry.

What would you like to see in CSME’s future?

We’re a national organization, but most of our members and all of our events are in Toronto. We’ve been taking baby steps to get satellite events going elsewhere. Anicka Quin, editor-in-chief of Western Living, is our one non-Toronto-based board member, and she’s done a lot to raise our profile – and solicit input – from mags in Western Canada.

Do you have advice for people who want to break into magazines?

Rule number one: Don’t miss deadlines. Ever. Rule number two: See rule number one. Also, the Canadian magazine industry is a small one, so if you make an effort to get out to events (shameless plug alert!) such as those put on by CSME, you’ll quickly get to know people and make connections. I’m sure I’m not the only editor who pays closer attention to pitches that come in from people I know than cold calls from complete strangers. And because it’s such a small community, you really can’t afford to go around burning bridges or submitting sub-par work.

Allan Britnell is on LinkedIn.

This interview has been edited for length.

About Me
Jaclyn Law

Jaclyn Law is a writer and an editor with more than 17 years’ experience. Formerly copy chief at Chatelaine and managing editor at Abilities, she has freelanced full-time since 2006. Her clients include magazines, websites, non-profits and corporations. Jaclyn is president of the Toronto Chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada and a member of the Editors’ Association of Canada.
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