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Becoming a Managing Editor: Advice from Mary Boltz Chapman

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“How do I learn to be a managing editor?”

I recently got an email from a fellow editor who’s moving from an individual contributor role into a managing editor job, and she’s looking for advice on how to handle all the moving parts.

Mary Boltz Chapman is a longtime editor and content director who has run multiple B2B publications in the restaurant industry. I asked how she first landed a job as managing editor, and what she learned along the way.

Look for Mentors

Mary says she didn’t magically know everything she needed to be a great managing editor from day one. She started her career copy editing, and as her career progressed, she moved up the ladder and ended up in a managing editor role. “I was a good writer and editor, and then here I was, running operations for this little magazine. It was fun and interesting to learn, and challenging. Fortunately I had the support of a strong editor-in-chief and a good HR department who helped me through some of the gaps in my skill set,” she says.

She looked for guidance about managing a calendar and deadlines — and even tougher, managing people.

Don’t Do All the Work Yourself

One of the mistakes Mary made early on was aggressively editing. “Copy would come in, and it would be good, but I knew exactly what I wanted. So I would edit it myself instead of guiding the writer or showing my work,” she says. Over time, she learned to let people edit their own copy so they would understand what she was looking for.

“I learned to take a step back, give some direction about what needed more clarity or where there needed to be more emphasis, and then give them a chance to bring it back. It became more of a conversation.”

She says that shift in her editing process helped her entire team grow. “Nobody wants to be knocked for the same issue over and over again,” she says. “They learned and improved.”

Surround Yourself with Examples of Good Writing

When you spend your days working on deadline and trying to get copy out the door, sometimes it’s helpful to stop, take a break and look around. What are others doing that’s really interesting, creative, fun or unexpected? Mary says she drew inspiration from judging writing competitions like the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) awards and the Neal Awards.

“You’re reading the best of other people’s work,” she says. “I can remember reading a fascinating series about how firefighters carry people up stairs or out of a building when they weigh more than they do. It was one of the most interesting articles I can remember reading — and it was about lifting people. I felt like I was being told a story, rather than being given a how-to. Anytime that can happen, it’s good.”

Even if you aren’t judging writing competitions, award sites usually post winners’ work. Mary encourages curious writers and editors to seek out inspiring writing.

Lee Price is co-founder of Managing Editor. After 7 years as a content marketing consultant at Rep Cap, she started a thought leadership consultancy to help visionary leaders dig up and develop their big ideas. She's a proud University of Virginia fan, Twizzler enthusiast and feminist. She lives in Georgia with her husband and two young daughters. When she's not reading or writing, you can find her on Twitter @leevprice.

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