The Old in a New Light
What are the problems that an independent magazine editor faces today?
Of course, the problems of an editor are not quite the same as the problems faced by a magazine publisher. But they are just as complex.
Since I fulfil the role of both editor and publisher for YES & NO, I’ll treat each role in separate blogs.
Starting with just a few of the 1001 problems and considerations faced by the editor of a magazine. So many factors have an impact on the work involved, it must be said, of course, that each magazine editor will have his or her own set of challenges. I can only reflect on my personal experience.
It’s common knowledge that I came to the world of magazines completely by chance; I’ve given plenty of interviews in print and on radio about how YES & NO was born. Suffice to say, it was an idea that came to me, as it were, out of the blue, and it took eighteen months for me to take it from concept to newsstands.
Initially, once I’d decided to make a magazine about everything, I had to find the content that I felt reflected the specific sensibility I had in mind for YES & NO. The essence of this sensibility resides in the title itself.
To really understand what a ‘yes and no’ story is, I refer you to an edition of the magazine. Any edition will do, for they all do a better job of speaking for themselves than I could ever attempt with the space I have here.
On the eve of publishing the ninth, there is no one edition of the magazine that is more ‘yes and no’ than the next. The magazine is built on an ever-evolving concept that unfolds with each iteration. This evolutionary aspect is its core concept, a part of its DNA. I’ve never wanted YES & NO to be about just one thing. I am interested in everything and I’m curious to know about the world in all its forms; I’m curious to know about people, to discover inspirational individuals who make me feel great, who make me feel alive.
How did I make the first edition of YES & NO? Early on, I naturally understood that a quarterly magazine needed a certain kind depth. I knew I didn’t want the writing to be intellectual (a quality I find off-putting), I wanted it to be intelligent (a quality I find attractive). I didn’t want to pander to celebrity or mainstream culture. Broadly speaking, I wanted to look at the old in a new light and the new in light of the old.
So, in the beginning, I set about asking my friends if they would like to be in a magazine. I invited them based on what I knew of their work. Because I wanted a wide range of stories, I also ventured to approach people I’d come across whose stories fascinated me. Everything is about story. We need stories to help us shape the way we see the world and ourselves in it. I wanted the widest possible range of voices from different backgrounds and different age groups.
The first lesson I learnt as an editor was that, though I’m trying to make the best magazine, YES & NO is not, and can never be, the best magazine in the world. In the real world there really is no such thing as the best of anything.
Why is this the case? My feeling is that it’s because what might be best for me isn’t necessarily best for you—and vice versa. And that’s the way it ought to be, right? Wrong. In any physical entity, whether it’s organic or inorganic, there is a qualitative measurement by which we say something is in top form or not top form—with all the gradations in between.
When you’re feeling sick with the flu, for instance, it’s a given that you’re not physically in best shape. However, it’s often at such times during convalescence that fertile ideas come to mind. This seems to be a paradox, but I’ve known it to be the case with many creatives, scientists, and big thinkers, having read accounts about how they came up with the great film idea, or the great solution to an impenetrable problem, or a sudden moment of illumination that wrenches an obscure thought out of the dark recesses of the mind.
If you’re able to harness this state of mind during physically healthy periods, then you’re on to something really good… But more often than not, it is during these physically healthy periods that you’re preoccupied with putting the ‘great idea’ into practice, and materialising it.
I believe, in fact, that when you are convalescing the desire to actualise the ‘big idea’ becomes a part of, and accelerates, the recovery process itself. What the big idea is doesn’t really matter. It could be anything. In my case, it was the idea to create a magazine.
In the early days, when I was researching magazine publishing with a view to creating YES & NO, I had no idea where to begin. So I made it my business to meet as many people as possible who were working in all the different aspects of magazine production and publishing. I listened to everyone I met, and tried to learn from their successes and their failures.
I’ve never been into the idea of applying a theme to any of the editions of the magazine, though I am often asked: What’s the theme of this edition? It’s as if some people expect to identify a theme where one isn’t present. I don’t know why this expectation exists, but I’m intrigued still when people assume it’s a given fact. And they seem surprised (even a little disappointed) to find out that I don’t theme the issues.
So, how do I decide on what goes into the magazine and what stays out. Whether they are large or small, I’m always drawn to stories that are undervalued; stories that have potential beyond what’s seen on the surface. If I recognise some aspect of a story that chimes with me, that’s the key, that’s my way in.
Invariably I start with the Cover Story. The cover story’s important because it states the magazine’s attitude in a very direct way. What makes a great cover story? A great cover story needs to be unique and compelling. It also needs to resonate with the cover stories that have come before and point to the cover stories to come in the future. That’s not to say that they suggest the types of all future cover stories — i.e. from now on they will all be about movies stars or environmental issues. It’s more that they give an indication of the developing (or evolving) attitude of the magazine’s ethos.
YES & NO is unique in the independent magazine publishing sector in that it can present any story to its readers, and that story can originate from anywhere in the world. This is important to YES & NO readers; this is what they have come to expect. The problem is how to keep a wide range of stories consistent and the underlying quality high.
The stories I select to include inside the magazine all need to have a relevance to what’s happening in the world today. But they also need to resonate with the human condition writ large. I’m always on the lookout for those human qualities in the stories that are outside of time; the human qualities that bind us together through the good times and the bad. The universal qualities that transcend borders. These are just some of the problems and considerations of an independent contemporary magazine editor.
To illustrate this blog, I’ve selected a few images from the other day’s PurePrint press pass for YES & NO Vol. III, Issue One.
The new edition of the magazine will roll out on newsstands across the world from Friday 13 September 2019. Remember you can also subscribe HERE.
Until next time…