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Inside the Front of the Book

Editors from the Ellie-nominated mags for best section pinpoint the strategy behind a successful department

By Samantha Melamed - April 19, 2010

Glamorous celebrity profiles and hard-hitting investigative reports may be the domain of the feature well. But when it comes to shaping a magazine's identity, expressing its voice, and keeping readers engaged issue after issue, front- and back-of-book departments are editorial's workhorse. "They're fundamental to the success of a magazine," says GQ deputy editor Michael Hainey, "If your sections aren't good, your magazine won't be either."

The 2010 American Society of Magazine Editors' National Magazine Awards will honor some of the year's best magazine sections, ones that exemplified stellar service writing while innovating dynamic new ways to present information and entertain audiences. Those that made the cut: Esquire's unfailingly clever Man at His Best guide to pop culture, fashion, drinks and lifestyle; GQ's impeccably stylish Manual section on grooming and fashion, and its recently inaugurated, entertainment-focused GQ Intelligence department; New York's back-of-book Strategist, the all-knowing resource for food, real estate and shopping; and Wired's Start, the front-of-book repository for all things innovative.

"When you look at these four magazines, they all have a very firm idea of what their readers are most interested in and a very firm grip on a stylish kind of service journalism," says Sid Holt, chief executive of ASME, which awards the Ellies. "Many of these finalists combine that with an intelligence, cleverness… and a last thing -- a sort of X-factor -- some spark or element of the unexpected that makes the section especially captivating for readers."

Editors from all four nominated magazines try to put their fingers on just what elevates a magazine section to greatness. Here's their advice....

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