To Become an Editor …

Life behind “the desk”
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A few months ago I wrote the definitive treatise on “How to become a gun writer.” The story received rave reviews, including several from people who aren’t currently residents of a locked mental health facility.

Now, in a follow-up effort, I’m going to take the next step and share some insights on the business of being the editor of a real-deal, big-time, serious-business shooting magazine. I am eminently qualified for the task because I’ve now served two years at the helm of our prestigious magazine, though I am also still blinking in shock at having achieved such a high honor.

A good analogy for our situation would be if an alien spaceship were captured by the military and painstakingly pried open, only to find “Goober” from the old Andy Griffiths Show sitting at the controls inside. Fortunately, a goofball may be running our show but the incredible cast of support characters is of such sterling quality, we still manage to put out a pretty darn good magazine.


Getting The Job

First, to become a gun magazine editor, you obviously must be hired. In the magazine business it’s not like YouTube, where you can build an entire brand on your own initiative by placing consumer fireworks in proximity to your nether regions and recording the results with a cell phone camera. To get hired as a magazine editor, you need to have pre-existing and in-depth knowledge of journalism, firearms, history, story planning, audio-visual skills, budgeting, business relations and how to safely open reader mail containing venomous scorpions.

The road to becoming editor is long and fraught with obstacles. Yet, if you put your nose to the grindstone and work hard every day, year-in and year-out, eventually you’ll get passed over for the nephew of the Chairman of the Board. This is when you should start a YouTube channel.

On the other hand, you can use my career path — I got a phone call out of the blue. This is literally how it happened with me. Granted, I’d been working hard for decades as a freelance writer and had established a decent, if somewhat oddball, reputation. There is also the indisputable idea of “luck favors the prepared,” but regardless, I wasn’t looking for a job when it suddenly found me. The rest is history. Some might think my rise to the top was a bit premature and I’m not ready to head up such an important franchise in firearms journalism history, but we’ll just ignore my mom.

I highly recommend my technique for becoming an editor, though you might have better odds playing the lottery.

The Glamor

As a youngster, I read all the outdoor and shooting periodicals obsessively, imagining what it would be like to be the editor of a major magazine — hanging out in Manhattan, taking three-martini lunches with famous hunters and then jetting off in the afternoon to bag a record-book aardvark. It seemed both highly civilized and wildly untamed. I so badly wanted to be part of this glamorous world of full-blooded scribes.

Fast forward 50 years — as reigning editorial deity for one of the most revered names in shooting history, I’m sitting in my home office at 7 a.m., pounding out 1,500 words while drinking black coffee and wearing torn sweat pants. Things have definitely changed. However, as the oldest newsstand shooting magazine, at least GUNS is still around, unlike most of the competition.

Changes aside, many people still believe I’ve got one of the coolest jobs in the world of firearms — and they’d be right. However, just like anything, there are parts of the daily routine closely resembling work and sometimes I’d rather be mucking out a pig barn than dealing another vicious nest of dangling participles.

I’m reminded of a friend who used to be one of the assistant photographers on a famous magazine swimsuit issue. I asked him about it and he said, “Yeah, it was great but you found yourself occasionally drinking coffee before work and thinking, ‘ho-hum, another long day shooting pictures of scantily clad women in a tropical paradise.’” Apparently most of the models were either horrible people or clinically insane — or both — and he dealt with them continually. Even fantasy jobs have their drawbacks



The Daily Grind

In my case, this manifests itself in the frequently asked question, “I’ll bet you go shooting and hunting all the time!” In truth, the main job of an editor is to sit in front of a computer screen for endless hours, cell phone glued to your ear, wading through hundreds of emails a day. You read a manuscript, make some edits, try to fix a horribly out-of-focus photo (or shoot your own replacement in the spare bedroom studio) and repeat ad nauseum. Nowadays, you can add countless video meetings to the mix. Just for fun, since I’m only seen from the waist up, I seldom wear pants.

There is still lots of travel, one of my favorite things — at least until you’re doing it for work. As any corporate road-warrior will tell you, when you have to travel, especially on back-to-back trips on someone else’s schedule, it quickly takes the shine off the apple. If you doubt this, try getting stranded in Wichita a few days before Christmas because your flight was cancelled due to a pending snowstorm. Standing in the gate area as flakes start to fall seems very far away from a glamorous corner office on Fifth Avenue.


Read The Mail

One other interesting part of the Editor’s job is interacting with incoming mail. The vast majority of letters offer praise along with the occasional constructive criticism but approximately 0.01% come from people with no sense of humor who love to share their abundant supply of disdain. In fact, this very story will likely receive an email complaining about the droll mental health reference in the opening paragraph while another one will point out improper use of a compound-coordinating split infinitive conjunction rising in the lunar sector of Scorpio.

So far, the best email of all time was a vicious diatribe cutting down the magazine, making nasty personal remarks about the editor and generally spewing venom in carload quantities. The writer then proceeded to ask for a job. Seriously.


However, please don’t take this laundry list of minor gripes as an indication I dislike being editor. I don’t — I have loads of fun and get to work with an incredible team of professionals. There are also the abundant intangible benefits: Waking up to a postcard sunrise over the mountains, seeing a monster buck over the sights of a prototype rifle or simply hanging out with interesting people and a draught of Kentucky’s finest on a boat dock while the rest of the country is slowly freezing to death. Those memories can’t be purchased, only earned.

Even better are the people. As editor, you meet everybody from the guy running a CNC machine in the gun factory to world-famous personalities. Some of them turn out to be great, some turn out to be wretched and occasionally a few become good friends. There is also our huge reader family, incredibly interesting folks who have some remarkable stories to share.

For someone who believes the number of friends you can claim proportionally increases your lifespan, I recently told my doctor I anticipate living another 100 years.

Not a bad trade in my book, whether you’re wearing pants or not.

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