Typical Masthead Deals
When you think about getting your name on a magazine's masthead, your first reaction might be to consider the prestige. You will officially be more recognizable and, hopefully, more valuable to that magazine than the other writers out there sending in query letters to the same set of editors. Well done, and excitement deserved!
However, when making the actual deal to put your name onto a masthead, you also have to stay cool and think in terms of business. The magazine obviously feels it has a reason to put your name on the masthead — perhaps you are well known in the field and can help to generate advertising revenue — and you need to make sure that you are compensated for allowing the magazine to get more mileage out of its relationship with you.
If a magazine editor asks to include your name on the publication's masthead, don't yell “Yippee!” and celebrate. Instead, ask the editor what you will receive in return for allowing the magazine to use your name. Recognize the fact that in many cases, you will be helping to make the magazine more money and thus should be compensated accordingly.
Typical masthead deals include allowing the magazine to use your name in exchange for receiving a certain amount of work or pay. The magazine could promise you a set number of article assignments a year, or a monthly retainer, or a combination of both. It also might promise to include you at important editorial meetings where stories are brainstormed, or it might agree to pay your way to trade shows if you're an expert writing about a given industry. In some cases, you will even be offered reimbursed membership dues for magazine writers' organizations or for groups related to the topics you cover.
All of this sounds wonderful at first blush, but you have to remember that the magazine will want something in return for its largesse. Most often, editors will offer you these guaranteed assignments and benefits in exchange for your promising not to write for any of their competitors.
Usually, when your name is put onto a magazine's masthead, the deal includes a provision that prevents you from writing articles for that magazine's competitors. Be sure you take into account any work opportunities you will lose when deciding whether a magazine is offering you enough benefits to join its masthead.
Sometimes, agreeing not to write for a magazine's competitors is no problem at all. You may not be writing for them anyway, so you will have lost nothing by taking the masthead deal.
Weighing Your Options
In other cases, though, you will have to carefully weigh what income you will lose from other magazines — as well as the relationships you may be forced to give up with those other magazines' editors. If you find yourself in a situation where the risks outweigh the benefits, you may want to turn the masthead deal down and try to continue working for the magazine on a regular, query-letter-by-query-letter basis. Your goal is to continue getting as many article assignments as possible, but you want to do so in a way that allows you to control “Brand You” — your byline and the reputation that goes with it.
Controlling “Brand You”
Sometimes, magazines will put your name on their masthead without asking your permission — in some cases, after just one article. Many writers get excited when they see this, but the truth is that the practice is something about which you should be at least a bit concerned.
Remember: In most cases, magazines want your name on their masthead so that they can make more money. Advertising salespeople walk around with a copy of the magazine in hand, telling their clients, “Look, we have the best writers in the business! You should buy more ads with us!” This means that your name, “Brand You,” is being used to increase sales for the magazine. You should be compensated for that with more than an editor's explanation about how “all writers get their name on the masthead.”
New magazines, in particular, tend to put every writer's name on their masthead without asking permission, simply as a way of establishing credibility for the startup magazine itself. Again, though, if you think about this from a business perspective, it means the magazine is building its own reputation on the back of yours. That's something for which you should be compensated, through either a monthly retainer, a promise of steady work, or something else that satisfies your needs.
Do magazine editors always ask permission before using a writer's name on a masthead?
No. In fact, some magazines ask writers to sign contracts that give the publication the full right to use the writer's name and likeness however, wherever, and whenever the magazine chooses — without asking the writer's permission, even if it's years after a story is written.
The main point to remember about getting onto magazine mastheads is that it's usually a good thing in terms of cementing your workload base, as long as you make your deals smartly. And, once you've landed on a masthead or two, you may even begin to think about further stabilizing your income by specializing in a field.