As a relative newbie to journalism, I’m still wrapping my head around some of the lingo. I had to learn my features from my columns, that “books” are magazines (except when they’re books), and that the opener of a story is a “lede” and not a “lead” (though sometimes it can be a lead. Still not super clear on that one.)
One such goodie is the front of book section (or front-of-book, or my fave, FOB) that appears in each magazine. What is it? Why is it?
In short, you can’t just start throwing 3,000-word features at readers on page 1. You need to sort of ease people into things. Warm them up before the big race, you know? The FOB is a batch of much shorter stories that do just that.
So the FOB in various mags (that’s magazines, see me using the lingo? Jk I don’t know if anyone says “mags” except me) is typically a series of super-short columns and other fun things like photos, art, or product reviews. It’s lighter in content density, and often in overall feel. It’s the pages you want to flip through when you’re in the doctor’s office waiting room.
Since it’s a series of shorter items, it’s also a lot more flexible. At least at my publication, the length of the section is never the same — it shrinks and expands depending on how many advertisements we sell. It’s also the place where we might stick in a last-minute story if current events demand it (so: all of our in-print COVID coverage). When that happens, a different FOB story might get pulled and saved for a future issue.
From my editor’s view, my goal for the FOB is just to have a good mix of content. Since we’re a science magazine that covers lots of different topics, I’d want to see that range of topics represented within the FOB just like it is throughout the whole book. They can’t all be awesome animal biology stories (which is what most people pitch me,) no matter how much I love awesome animal stories.
There are tons and tons of cool things in the world. Cool people doing cool work. Weird discoveries. New technologies. Funny-looking animals. Whatever your beat, there are always going to be more ideas than there are stories. What’s the difference between a great idea and a great story? Great question.
I’m an editor at a science magazine, and I read a lot of pitches. I get pitches that are long, and pitches that are short. I get pitches that don’t have nearly enough info, and pitches that have way too much info. I get pitches from veteran science writers, pitches from newbie (or wannabe) science writers, and pitches from total randos. What’s the right amount of information? To figure it out, I sat down and wrote a pitch, to me, from me, based on one of my favorite stories I’ve written. Here’s what I came up with.
You’re a graduate student. You’ve decided you don’t want to stay in academic research, and instead have your eye on a career in something like science writing, policy, or outreach. You want to build your resume and/or portfolio with experiences in said new field, but that takes time away from your research that you’re desperately trying to finish so you can graduate. What to do?
My inbox (as editor at a popular science magazine) is full of pitches, and I say no to the vast majority. Here’s why, if anyone was wondering, ranked from the least to most common reasons:
Before I was a card-carrying member of “the media,” I had no idea how journalists found their stories. This was perhaps especially confusing to me as a scientist, in particular when I’d see news articles that said things like “in a study published today…” and wonder how a writer could’ve written a story that fast.
Hello, science lovers! It was embarrassingly recent that I realized that I had been conflating science communication (#SciComm) and science journalism in my mind, and that’s it’s quite helpful to know the difference. If you’re here, you must think it will be helpful, too! Welcome!
Well, hello there! I see you’ve come seeking answers to a question, like the many before you who have heard the tale of the absolutely miserable graduate student who somehow weaseled her way into an assistant editor position at a national science magazine within 6 months of her defense. How did she do it?
Well, I have bad news for you: She got really, really lucky.
Musings on writing and science, from a scientist turned writer. No affiliation the writer's current employer.