Cottage Life
June 2009

Editorial packaging

Service editing

Humour editing

Silver National Magazine Award Winner 2009 

I worked with

Co-​editor: Michelle Kelly
Designer: Steve Balaban
Photographer: Matt Barnes

Captain Cottager

In ser­vice sto­ries, the Cottage Life edi­to­r­ial team was more com­fort­able pre­vent­ing fore­see­able prob­lems than react­ing to unex­pected ones. We just didn’t like fac­ing an emer­gency. Medical crises, in par­tic­u­lar, are an edi­to­r­ial chal­lenge because the con­se­quences can be deadly. And while cot­tagers should have some first-​aid knowl­edge, they don’t like read­ing about it—too grue­some, too earnest, too pes­simistic. Sometimes, though, the story read­ers don’t want is the one they really need.

Michelle Kelly and I devel­oped “Captain Cottager,” a pack­age of short items related to cot­tage emer­gen­cies. We decided first to approach each inci­dent as an oppor­tu­nity for suc­cess, show­ing how cot­tagers can be heroes. We’d leaven the dire med­ical emer­gen­cies with lighter crises in our other tra­di­tional ser­vice cat­e­gories, includ­ing plumb­ing, cook­ing, and boat­ing. Cottagers would see sit­u­a­tions that would be real (except per­haps UFO abduc­tion, one of the pieces I wrote). Each would need imme­di­ate action, giv­ing the pack­age drama and urgency.

Packages of diverse ele­ments can fall apart; the editor’s chal­lenge is to knit every­thing together. I sug­gested we write short, imper­a­tive sen­tences for all sub­heds. To avoid a bossy and repet­i­tive “do this, do that” pat­tern, we added occa­sional adjec­tives or phrases to keep the dis­play play­ful and var­ied.