People ask me about my job all the time. Usually, I tell them I play truck for a living. Mostly because if I tell them I'm a magazine editor they think I know how to spell and make grammatical corrections, which couldn't be further from the truth. However, this time I had someone interested in pursuing a publishing career ask me several detailed questions about my job as Editor at Jp magazine. Here are the questions and how I answered 'em:
Q: How did you get into this type of writing? What is your background as a writer and an off-roader?
A: I pretty much fell into it on accident. I'm really into mechanical things and I have never owned a car, only trucks and 4x4s. I was always tinkering with them and reading the off-road magazines. I had also acquired a lot of fabrication, machining, and welding experience during high school. I originally went to college to be an engineer. Obviously that didn't work out. I spun out after two semesters and needed to reassess my life (took a year off to go snowboarding and drink beer). When I returned I went back to school and took a few English and writing classes.
Several years later I went to my step sister's wedding in Washington. While sitting in a hotel lobby I noticed an issue of 4-Wheel & Off-Road on the table. I picked it up and read an editorial titled "You Wanna Work Here?" by David Freiburger. I was sure that was the job for me and I made it my goal. I eventually ended up with an English degree with an emphasis in creative writing. During and after college I tried sending freelance articles to several magazines but never had a single one published. Eventually I interviewed and got the job I wanted. Interestingly, even after nearly 10 years of doing this, everything Freiburger wrote about the job in his "You Wanna Work Here?" editorial was the truth.
Q: Do you ever get tired of Jeeps, wheeling, talking about them, that sort of stuff?
A: Yep, I'm kind of cyclical. There would be times that I couldn't have enough projects to work on. Other times I couldn't stand messing with my Jeeps. I wanted to quit several times. I have to have other hobbies or I'll burn out. It took me a few years to realize it. Today I have a better handle on it and a larger staff. This is my dream job and I can't even imagine doing anything else.
Q: What's your typical day like? Are you in an office all day?
A: There really isn't a typical day. Sometimes I work from home, sometimes I'm in the garage installing parts, sometimes I'm on the trail, sometimes I'm in the office all day, and sometimes I'm on the road. We travel about once a month. Earlier this week for example, I had spent two days at the SEMA show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Yesterday I woke up at 5:30 a.m., spent about two hours answering e-mails and reading over and correcting stories, hopped in the loaner car, drove 200-something miles home, unloaded my junk, drove another 60 miles to drop the loaner car off, hopped in the Jeep and drove another 30 miles into the office. I got there at about 1 p.m. I worked on some more e-mails, bench raced with Pete Trasborg, and corrected a few stories until about 6 p.m. Then I drove another 30 miles home. This morning I woke up at 5 a.m. and found six potential cover images for the next issue and got to work on this e-mail. Since I'm behind I will likely spend today and most of my weekend working on stories. As an editor of a magazine most of my job is putting fires out.
Q: What makes Jp magazine different from its competitors?
A: Campbell's Soup doesn't just run around handing out its recipes. I'm kinda the same way. Sorry. Would you believe "Because anything else just sucks"?
Q: What are the major frustrations of your job?
A: It's basically time management 101. Unfortunately I kinda suck at it. An editor friend once gave me the perfect analogy for my job. Ever seen one of those entertainers that can spin multiple glass dinner plates on top of sticks planted all over the stage? He is constantly running from plate to plate to keep all of 'em going. If he focused only on one plate the rest would fall and break. That's my job. I keep all the plates at the magazine spinning.
Q: Do you have any advice for a new writer entering the field?
A: It's not as rock star as many people think. Editors at some publications really try and pump themselves up. Ultimately none of us should be considered famous. I'm just a regular guy who likes 4x4s and I just so happen to write about them for a living. I spend long days, weekends and sometimes nights working on stories and projects. It's not a glamorous job and it's not always fun. For me it's not even a job anymore, it's more of a lifestyle choice. The location I live, my house, my vacations, my clothes, and most of my basic life decisions are all dictated by my hobby, which just so happens to be the same thing that earns me a paycheck every two weeks. You likely won't make a fortune doing this but you can make everyday different and interesting if you try.
If you jump in, go in 100-percent. Knowledge of the topic, commitment and enthusiasm are the most important characteristics to have in my mind. I mean, of course you have to be able to put together a coherent sentence and take a photo. But that's stuff that you can pickup, learn and improve on as you go. You can't learn enthusiasm or commitment. You either have it or you don't. -John Cappa