This week FeaturesExec catches up with Karen Clare, editor of Practical Family History.
About the publication:
What makes Practical Family History different from other outlets in your sector?
We are aimed at those just starting to research their family history, as well as readers who may have been doing their family tree for a couple of years, so we keep it clean and simple, easy-to-read and jargon-free. The magazine is brimming with expert advice on tracing your ancestors, in-depth research and latest news about genealogy websites, records and archives, plus practical guides, brickwall solutions, social history and readers’ stories. We focus on particular beginner topics, such as ‘how tos’, but we know family history is not just about how far back you can go and how many names you have on your tree; it’s more about the human interest stories, such as where and how your ancestors lived and what they may have been like. With that in mind we really try to conjure up a picture of the past for our readers to give them a real flavour of the periods in which their forebears lived.
We also offer a free photo dating service and invite readers with a particular ‘brickwall’ to write in and we’ll see if one of our experts can help solve it for them, through our readers’ trees feature. In addition we offer great book, CD and DVD giveaways each issue (in return for a brief review) to help our readers’ research.
We have a fresh, clean look, friendly approach and our copy and historical images simply sparkle off the page! We always aim to inform, educate and entertain.
We hope that readers who feel they have reached a certain level of aptitude and knowledge will go on to read our ‘big sister’ publication, Family Tree, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year and is the UK’s longest-running family history magazine.
Describe a typical reader for us:
Someone fairly new to family history, or perhaps who has been researching for a couple of years or so. They are intelligent, enthusiastic, dedicated and passionate about their hobby and have an interest in history in general as well as genealogy. They are usually aged 40+ but we do often hear from younger readers too. Our older readers may be retired so have more time to research their family history and visit archives, etc. It’s a hobby that seems to appeal to men and women alike.
What stories are you most interested in covering in the publication?
As well as practical guides to genealogy research, records and ‘how tos’ from experts, we are interested in colourful personal research/ancestry stories, social/military history articles, material relating to topical events and anniversaries and features about related subjects such as family heirlooms. Anything with a unique angle really.
How does the editorial process run? Do you have specific days when you focus on different aspects of the magazine, or is the planning on a much more ad-hoc basis?
Issues are planned several months in advance – we are currently working on our June issue and I am planning September’s and beyond! We produce 13, 100-page, issues a year so we work on a four-week production schedule. After we go to press I work on admin, answering emails and letters I haven’t had time to reply to in press week, liaising with authors, advertising and PRs, reading through submitted articles and feature ideas and planning future issues. There is flexibility to alter editorial content in the current issue we are working on.
My colleagues will start editing and fact-checking articles for the next issue, undertaking picture research, and liaising with readers, experts and PRs as necessary. In the third week of our production schedule we put together our Calendar/diary dates and news sections, so we can include as much up-to-date information as possible. The fourth week is generally tying up loose ends, proof-reading, making amendments and coming up with a brilliant front cover!
How do you decide the content, front covers and headlines?
Our regular experts will come up with feature ideas, and we have brain-storming sessions in the office. I also get ‘one-offs’ from freelance authors and readers. I try to plan issues with a balanced mix of articles to appeal to all.
Our front covers depend on the main features in the issue, along with the odd ‘quirky’ but appealing article, and what fantastic, relevant, historical images we can find in the image libraries we use. The editorial team consists of very experienced journalists-turned-family historians, so we love coming up with headlines!
Do you produce a forward features list? (If not,why not?)
We have recently started producing a newsletter for potential and existing advertisers and PRs, listing features coming up two issues in advance of the one currently on sale.
Do you use freelance contributions, and if so, are they for any particular section/type of work?
We welcome features via email on all aspects of family history from freelance contributors, whether it be a personal story or on an ‘expert’ topic.
Do you work closely with PRs?
I look at all emailed press releases. If they are relevant we will try to feature the topics in the magazine, say in news, Calendar or on our review pages (for books, CDs and DVDs). I or one of my colleagues will follow them up if we need more information/images. We work quite closely with PRs when it comes to events, products or competitions that we think our readers will be interested in. Unfortunately we don’t have time to respond to everyone but will usually point out to a PR if they are sending in press releases that are too late to be included in the issue we are working on.
What information/input from PRs is most useful to you?
Short, informative, relevant and to the point press releases would be perfect, with low res images attached if possible (or a link to where we can download images).
What’s the best starting point for a PR who wants to tell you about their client?
Drop me a clear, concise and relevant email.
Do you have a PR pet hate?
When diary dates/news items are sent in too late! They should be emailed at least two months in advance, because of the deadlines we work to. It can be disappointing when we find we can’t cover a fantastic museum exhibition because the relevant issue has just gone to press. Another pet hate is people getting my name wrong. I often get emails for the previous editor, even though she hasn’t worked on the magazine for over a year! I don’t like pushiness either, but this is rare from PRs.
When is the best time for PRs to contact you & when is your deadline for contributions?
Anytime in the first two weeks of our production schedule. It depends on what the press release is about, but the preferable deadline for contributions is at least two months in advance of the intended issue (see above), although I understand this isn’t always possible, especially if something is under embargo.
Describe a typical day at work:?
It depends where we are in the production schedule. At the start of the schedule I will be catching up on my admin, commissioning and planning future issues, and tweaking the current issue’s flat plan. I will dive in and sub features, check over proofs, do picture research, and liaise with my colleagues, authors, proof-readers, designers and advertising. I wouldn’t say there was a typical day!
What do you love about your work?
The variety, creativity, the fantastic people I work with and the fascinating topic. I couldn’t ask for more.
Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
I previously worked in newspapers, as a reporter, sub-editor, production editor and chief sub-editor, before joining ABM Publishing Ltd as assistant editor on Family Tree magazine in January 2008. In March last year I was seconded to Practical Family History as acting editor to cover maternity leave for a year. I officially took over the role of editor in early April.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Just be yourself.
I’d love to have a go at…
I’d love to have a go at… being an archaeologist, somewhere hot! Or I’d be a marine biologist, working with whales and dolphins. Of course, I’ve got a novel or two in me too, if only I had the time to write them…
What media do you seek out 1st thing in the morning?
I attempt to have a sneaky peek at BBC News 24, but my four-year-old son usually demands CBeebies if the TV’s on!
What’s your idea of a relaxing day off?
It would be spending the day gallivanting around in the fresh air and sunshine with family and friends, on the North Norfolk coast, or in the wonderful grounds of a National Trust property. If had to be on my own, it would definitely be a chilled-out spa day!
About you and freelance journalists:
Do you like freelance journalists to get in touch with you directly to pitch ideas? And if so, how?
Yes, I welcome concise approaches via email from freelance journalists with specific ideas for relevant features or offers of submitted work, made on an exclusive basis. If they have never written for us I would like to know what their experience is/who they have written for before. Their pitch for each idea should be a paragraph long, explaining what they would like to cover in the article, and include suggestions for how it might be illustrated/indicate if they have any relevant copyright-free images we could use (or even include a sample of images).
Approaches should also include a daytime telephone number and home address.
Name the three most important attributes that make a freelance journalist stand out for you and would make you use them again?
They should be an excellent writer; know their chosen topic well; and have seen our magazine thus got a feel for our readership.
If you can, tell us about the best approach you’ve seen from a freelance…and the worst…
One of the best approaches I have received was formal but friendly, concise, informative, clearly angled at our readership and written well. It gave me a real flavour of the proposed article (including word count), which was a great story, and included the valuable information that there were photographs to illustrate it. Among the worst approaches I have received are those sent to the wrong email address (in this case, our sales department) and the wrong editor!
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