Secret Linux Journal Editors' Guide

by Don Marti

You didn't think I'd leave without revealing the secret of how to edit this thing, did you? There's already an author's guide for this magazine, but here, in my own humble opinion, is how to edit it.

First of all, on the Internet, every movement looks like a big argument. So don't make a big deal out of on-line debates, such as the infamous “GNOME vs. KDE” thread. Generally around here, for every dumb conflict story there's a real story. For every “GNOME vs. KDE” story, there's a story trying to get out. Make the extra effort to get the real point—in this case, what the real developers are doing to make desktop apps compatible, not what random people are arguing about. Judge the tree by its fruit. If it's worth running, it helps the reader get something done that he or she couldn't do before reading it. You feel better and smarter after reading the good articles.

Keep running the weird articles. Most readers aren't going to navigate to the North Pole under the ice cap, put a Beowulf cluster in space, drive a Mars rover or and control devices with their brain waves. But, a good magazine gives you a kick in the behind every so often. Maybe I should be writing my next Web application in C or using a compression tool other than the venerable zlib, but I never would have thought to search for it. When readers live inside the Googlemind, there's little value to running the big obvious subjects. More and more, if it's something they already know they want, they've already gone out and gotten it.

Have helpful questions for authors who sound promising but don't have a sound article proposal yet. If you ask the right question, an author can turn an unworkable security proposal into a thought-provoking article on what not to do and why not or turn a general “how to use Linux in your business” proposal into a solid system administration article. Sometimes if you ask a really hard question, an author sneaks away for a while and comes back with something great.

You have a printing press at your disposal, so don't fear the infamous Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). You can see several articles in back issues that would have brought down a storm of lawyer letters if they had been on the Web. But not even an entertainment industry lawyer will walk into a courtroom and ask a judge to burn a book. Don't make too big of a deal out of the digital-freedom-enabling articles, but don't miss a chance to do one.

Make the authors do unconscionable amounts of work. Linux Journal authors will code and test sample applications, shoot photos, build circuits and even review other authors' proposals and articles. There's a lot of goodwill in the world for Linux Journal, so use it. One good point about working with authors is Linux Journal's secret weapon: an author contract that lets them keep the copyright to their work and use it however they like after initial publication.

Don't be afraid to be “too hard” or “too technical”. If a reader is motivated, he or she will catch up. If not, an article that describes an excellent result—something new and different—could be a great motivation. Show me a magazine that just covers how to get the same results on Linux as you had been getting on a proprietary OS, and I'll show you readers who are getting asked to make a painful switch for no benefit.

Every so often, you will run into a reader who tells you, “I didn't get my magazine.” Have a couple of extra copies on you, and make sure you know how to get into the subscription system and give the person a bonus month. In some companies, everyone is in sales, but when it's a magazine people really miss when they don't get it, everyone is in reader services. But the occasional complaint about a missed issue is a good sign. When you stop hearing complaints when people miss an issue, you're being too boring. Have a good time.

Don Marti is still editor in chief of Linux Journal for a little while.

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