Most freelance writers know that they should check out the "Writer's Market" when they're deciding which editor to contact after they've targeted a specific publication for their work. But life happens and jobs and titles change. This is particularly true in the evolving world of publishing.
Understanding editorial staff titles can help you figure out where to send your query and beat out the competition. But keep in mind that many of these titles are fluid. The job itself, along with the responsibilities assigned, can vary depending on the company. And not all companies employ all these editors.
An acquisitions editor is in charge of acquiring content. Unless more specific information is available on the company's masthead or on the publication's website, this is usually the editor you want to query. The title is more commonly associated with the book publishing industry, but many larger magazines also have an editor specifically responsible for acquisitions.
This position is more commonly associated with news writing. An assignment editor directs writing and investigative assignments and/or takes care of coverage issues. This editor is not likely to read or respond to queries in a magazine setting.
This editor is the one who's directly in charge of content, and he might be responsible for fielding queries. Generally speaking, an articles editor ensures a uniform reading experience and adherence to themes or house style for the magazine's articles.
The editor who holds this position supports and assists other editors such as the articles editor. Her responsibilities can vary widely depending on the publication. They might range from clerical chores all the way up to performing the same tasks as an associate editor. She might or might not be able to respond to queries.
This is a mid- to upper-level editorial staff member who supports the managing editor or editor-in-chief. He handles the nuts and bolts of the daily operation of a magazine if the publication does not have a managing editor and he might assist the managing editor if it does. This editor is likely to be responsible for responding to freelance pitches.
Contributing Editor/Editor at Large
This position belongs to a high-ranking and usually well-known writer/contributor who has written for the magazine multiple times. Because this person is not technically a staff member, he's typically not in a position to accept your query.
This editor is in charge of one specific magazine department or sometimes of a recurring section or column, especially in larger publications. She might be able to respond to pitches if they're targeted to her particular niche.
This is the person in charge of the daily operations of the publication. The managing editor is likely to accept and deal with queries and pitches at some publications.
This head honcho is concerned with the overall product of the magazine and might also be involved in the business/financial side. Those in this position are not appropriate editors to query, although an exception might exist in smaller publications such as local magazines or newspapers. These executive editors or editors-in-chief are more likely to be involved with the day-to-day editorial content of the publication.
Putting It All Together
Some of these editorial positions can be filled by more than one person. It's not unusual for larger publications to employ more than one department editor. When this is the case, try to narrow your efforts down to the one who commonly handles material such as yours. Even if your guess isn't quite correct, she might direct you to the proper party if she likes and has an affinity for your work.
Make use of social media. Do some research. Go to the publishers' pages to get up-to-date info on the latest goings-on and staff changes there. It generally costs more money and takes a lot more time for publishers and magazines to update their websites and often the first trickle of this type of information can be found on Twitter or Facebook.
Don't send your work to multiple publications at the same time, and most definitely do not send it to more than one editor in-house because you're not exactly sure who to query. You're effectively saying that you don't have much confidence either in your work or in the recipient if word gets out that she's not the only one who's received your pitch. And whatever else you do, make sure you have the editor's name spelled correctly.
OK, you've done everything right. Time passes and you've had no response. Is it time to move on? Yes and no.
Follow up at least once. If you receive no response the second time, it's definitely time to pitch that piece of work elsewhere. The same goes if you receive a lukewarm, noncommittal response. You're free now to send the work elsewhere, although you should be careful about approaching someone else at the same house for reasons already mentioned.
But it's possible that the editor you chose is just snowed under. Maybe he really does like your work but he hasn't had adequate time to address it yet. Check the company's calendar — you can usually find something along these lines on its website or on that up-to-date social media page. See what's going on. If you're hitting him at a particularly busy time, take a deep breath, wait a short period of time, then reach out again. Then move on if you still don't hear anything.