Had a very pleasant evening last night at the launch of the final print version of Masthead. Caught up with some old friends, made some new. And of course a common topic of conversation was the state of the world and the state of the magazine industry. Everyone seems a little nervous – it's tough. And I just wanted to ask you how you're doing? How are you holding up? Whether you've lost work, have seen cutbacks or have managed to hold on, it's all a little scary. Even those who feel secure in their jobs can't help but feel that maybe they should be worried, even just a little, because hey, you never know.
So how are you? What's on your mind? What are you thinking? Leave your comments or just send me an email (vangerwen at gmail dot com). I'd love to hear from you.
With layoffs galore and companies asking staff to take unpaid vacations or cut down to four-day workweeks, a lot of editors are likely wondering how to get everything done with fewer people in less time. (Maybe next week I'll blog about how to go about doing that...)
So it struck me as a little funny to be reading an article in the New York Times about occupying yourself with busywork in the hope you won't get sacked.
"[W]hen business is verrry slow and the possibility of layoffs icily real, looking busy is no joke. In retail and real estate, restaurants and law offices, many workers are working hard to look necessary — even when they don’t have all that much to do."
It makes sense that this habit would evolve in industries where business has slowed down – where customers and clients are quickly becoming scarce – but in magazines, even when ad pages are down, you still have to put out the issue. I would think the challenge for us is how to manage an increasing workload; am I wrong? Is anyone out there mastering the art of killing time?
Regardless, everyone is working harder to keep their jobs. Just try not to be obvious about it.
"Experts on workplace behavior say that mustering a token show for the boss can backfire. If a worker isn’t already regarded as diligent, 'This is a bad time to manage the impression that you’re a hard worker,' said Robert Giacalone, a business school professor at Temple University. 'There’s fear out there, and that fear generates suspicion among people in power that workers are trying to manipulate their images because they’re afraid.'"
I'm not sure if it's absolutely necessary to set out to fail, but at the very least, you need to be willing to land in the mud every once in awhile.
As Seth Godin points out, "Think about how often your goal at a conference or a meeting or in a project is, 'don't screw up!' or 'don't make a fool of yourself and say the wrong thing.' These are very easy goals to achieve, of course. Just do as little as possible. The problem is that they sabotage your real goals, the achievement ones."
If you're satisfied with mediocrity, then do just that: set yourself to achieve safe goals like avoiding embarrassment. But if you want for yourself even something slightly better, don't be afraid to stick your neck out, doing whatever it is. This advice isn't anything new. You may have heard...
"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll lad among the stars."
"Believe and act as if it were impossible to fail."
"Success comes to those who are neither afraid to fail nor discouraged by failures."
If you've been looking for work and feel like you've been getting nowhere, you might want to reevaluate your approach. The Guardian has done some research and discovered there are some key differences between "aces" – those who find work within four months of beginning their search – and the rest of us, "chasers". To ensure you're in the first category, the newspaper recommends adopting these seven strategies for finding work more quickly:
1. Think more positively. Your attitude – whether you're optimistic and can visualize yourself in a job, or negative and desperate – will likely come across in your cover letters and interviews. Make sure you're broadcasting the right message.
2. Be more proactive. Research your prospective employer thoroughly and ask questions – it will show you have a genuine interest in the position.
3. Milk your friends and family for contacts. Network, network, network. You don't know when, where or from whom you'll hear about your dream job.
4. Speculate.Look for jobs beyond the employment listings and send applications to companies, even when they aren't advertising positions.
5. Be decisive. Know who you want to work for.
6. Do more. It comes down to odds: apply for more jobs and you have a higher chance of finding work.
7. Embrace the digital age. Use LinkedIn, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and blogs to research prospects and to advertise your goals and talents.
When I was cleaning out my desk and trashing files from my computer as I prepared to leave Style at Home, I was faced with the decision of what to keep. Perhaps because I have aspirations to teach a magazine course or two one day, I like to keep copies of some of my better assignment and fix letters – they might come in handy as examples in the future. Or perhaps, after I become a world-famous ;) editor, they'll be published in a biography of me a la Harold Ross (read an excerpt of Letters From the Editor). (Grand aspirations, eh?)
There's another reason to keep a selection of your editing correspondence, though. On her blog, one-time Chatelaine editor Rona Maynard writes of how she's grateful to have had the chance to read an assignment letter she wrote to Antonia Zerbisias back in 1979.
I had taken great pride in the letters I composed back then. I used to see myself as the Max Perkins of fashion magazines for the under-35 set. Yet I hadn't thought to save even one of those letters. That Antonia had (along with the entire dossier) seemed almost too good to be true. And so, within hours, I was face-to-face again with my young self, and hers.
Rona also mentions how assignment letter writing has changed:
These days few editors bother with detailed assignment letters. Instead they send contracts designed by corporate masters to head off expensive copyright disputes. When I sit down to write a magazine piece and review the marching orders, they're just that: length, deadline, a few terse lines of summary. I rarely feel that I'm engaging with a sympathetic reader who understands the power of the word. We've entered an era in which many young writers have never experienced the surge of motivation that an editor's letter can unleash.
And I wonder, has it changed so much? I certainly have seen and even written these short, perfunctory assignment notes, but only when working with writers who I've worked with before, and on stories of the type they've written before, when writing it all out really just seems redundant. But in general, have we become lazy – do we dash off assignment letters with little care?
Corinna vanGerwen is a freelance editor and writer. She has worked as senior editor at Style at Home, senior design editor at Cottage Life and is the former Canadian Director of Ed2010. She has also held the position of operations manager at a boutique PR agency, where she handled strategic planning and daily operations.