Ep 36 Swimmers, bathers or togs? Why you should care about Google+. The top 4 ways that authors can promote their books; what to do if you have multiple offers; Write or Die; and meet InStyle editor Kirsten Galliott.

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In Episode 36 of So you want to be a writer, what publishers really want, swimmers vs togs, why authors should care about Google+, what to do if you have multiple offers, how to tell if your story idea is mediocre, four things you should do to promote your book, the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference, Writer in Residence and Editor of InStyle magazine Kirsten Galliott, Write or Die, know what you’re worth, and much more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

What Publishers Want

Maps of Australian language – swimmers v cozzies, scallops v potato cakes

Why should authors care about Google+?

Social Media for Writers #4: Google+

Query Question: What do I do with multiple offers

How to Tell If Your Story Idea Is Mediocre—And How to Improve It

Ask Valerie: 4 things authors can do to promote their book

Writer Unboxed Un-Conference Closes to Registrants in 4 Days!

Writer in Residence

KirstenKirsten Galliott is editor of InStyle magazine, has more than 20 years of publishing experience across newspapers and magazines spanning editorships at Fairfax Media, ACP and Pacific Magazines.

InStyle Mag
Kirsten on Twitter

Web Pick

Write or Die

Write or Die: the software that offers struggling authors a simple choice

Working Writer’s Tip

How much should I charge?

The Mapmaker Chronicles is now on sale!

Find out more here.

Sign up to the Australian Writers’ Centre Newsletter!

Just fill in your details over here.

Your hosts

Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait
@valeriekhoo

Email us
podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Transcript

Allison

Today we’re talking with Kirsten Galliot, the editor of InStyle magazine, who has more than 20 years publishing experience across newspapers and magazines. 

Welcome, Kirsten.

Kirsten
Hi, Allison. How are you?

Allison
I’m extremely well.

Let’s start with you, how did you get your start in the publishing industry?

Kirsten
Goodness. I think my first big break I did sort of various bits and pieces in radio and whatnot and TV, but my first big break was getting a job on Who Weekly, as it was known back then. Back then it was a black and white magazine, all black and white photos, they did a real mix of human interest stories, plus celebrity, plus breaking news stories, very different to the Who Magazine incarnation now.

I started there as an editorial assistant, basically a glorified PA, and worked my way up. I stayed there for 5.5 years and by the time I left Who I was sort of senior features writer, I guess.

Allison
Did you do a degree? You said you did a bit of radio and a bit of TV, like had you done a degree at university to do that? Communications?

Kirsten
Yeah, I did a degree in mass communications at Macquarie University.

Allison
What were the three key lessons you learned as a young features writer in that experience of working your way up through Who?

Kirsten
I think the most important lesson at Who, and back then, and I’m sure it’s still the same case today, we had very experienced senior editors and editors who your story would go through sort of three editing phases and there would be a lot of questions and lots of comments and things that were unlined and rewritten. I think the first big lesson I learned was not to be too precious about my writing. I think people do get caught up in the ego of, “This is my sentence I crafted and that’s the best way it should…” whereas if someone fresh comes in and goes, “I don’t really think that’s working, we could twist it around like this… what about if you added this?”

Writing can be a collaborative process and the best freelancers I’ve worked with and the best writers I’ve worked with are people who are quite open to that sort of creative process of working together. Of course any editor and writer will eventually be a little argy-bargy and that’s fine, you should always be prepared to sort of say when you really feel strongly about something. But, I think that collaborative process is really important.

Allison
Have you had any interviews, because I’d imagine when you’re sort of going out to interview people or phoning people to interview for Who you’re going to be talking to some fairly big names, was there a certain amount of anxiety around that?

Kirsten
Not really for me. I remember my second feature story that I ever did was on Iva Davis from Icehouse. Back then he was quite a big star, I think I was writing 2,000-odd words, so it was a big deal for me as a young journalist, I had only written small pieces before. I remember I was a little anxious about that, but I put on his music and just tried to calm down.

The thing for me is always if you have done your research and you’re going in there knowing a lot about that person, then you can’t really go wrong.

Allison
Right, so you were prepared for your interview.

Kirsten
I always over-prepared. I found time and time again if you’re impressing that person because you know so much about them, they take you more seriously as a journalist.

I had a conversation with a journalist this morning who’s doing some background on a story for a major publication, not attached to InStyle, and just in getting background from me on her story, before she even interviewed her main player I could tell she knew so much about that subject already. She’s only into Day 2 of her research, but it’s that kind of attention to detail.

We’re all busy, we’re all trying to fit too much into one day, but if you can really do your research, read quirky bits and pieces about the person and add that into your interview, then it just gives you so much more color. You just get a much better result.

Allison
That’s right, it gives you the opportunity to ask a question perhaps that hasn’t been asked before as well, doesn’t it? If you actually know some stuff.

Kirsten
Oh yeah, it’s crucial. If you go in there and just do the rote interview where they’re being asked questions they’ve been asked a million times before you’re going to get the same boring answers you read in all the quips, and who wants that?

Allison
Not me. Definitely not me.

Kirsten
As an editor I don’t want to see that either, I can tell you.

Allison
Have you had any interviews that have been like complete disasters?

Kirsten
I don’t think I’ve ever had a complete disaster, but certainly in my Who days, I was interviewing some pretty big name celebrities, A-list Hollywood actors who were coming out to Australia on movie tours, and I do remember — all right, I’ll tell you. I might as well. I do remember interviewing Keanu Reeves. He didn’t want to be there. He had the publicist sitting there, which was always a no-no in my book, you have to sort of try and get rid of the publicist. I just remember it was hard.

In the end I had got some good stuff from him, because, again, I had done some pre-research where I had spoken to Hugo Weaving, because he was obviously starring with Hugo in the Matrix. Hugo gave me some good background, so I was able to ask some quite fresh stuff of Keanu. I got some good quotes, but I remember it was hard work.

Allison
OK, so you managed to salvage it because you had done your research and you had some interesting angles?

Kirsten
Yeah, and thank god I had done that, because otherwise it would have been a complete disaster. Also you’re in churn, you’re journalist #7 of 20 or whatever it is. These days you’re probably sitting with ten other journalists at a table, you might not even be getting that one on one. I guess at InStyle that’s the kind of thing we’re always trying to make sure we’re not going to do a junket, we’re not going to do a round table interview. How are we going to make sure that our journalists get some proper time where a person might actually engage?

Allison
And give us an interesting story?

Kirsten
And give some interesting anecdotes, yeah.

Allison
What’s the most memorable story, in a good way, that you’ve done? Anything that really stands out for you?

Kirsten
I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s age, but I always forget who I’ve interviewed. All the other journalists I know seem to be able to pull out these great stories, someone will mention something, I go, “Oh, yeah, I think I interviewed them once. Oh, yeah, I did this…”

I think for me it’s the whole experience as a journalist, it’s not just the end result, it’s not just the interview, it’s when it all comes together. I mean I’ve been really lucky, I’ve interviewed some amazing people and have gone different places.

I remember a funny story I did. I went and spent a day with Les Hiddins – the Bush Tucker man. He lived on Magnetic Island, off of Townsville. I remember going up there, and I hadn’t been to Magnetic Island since I was a child. I spent a whole day with him and his family. Those are the kind of real moments where you’re actually immersed in their live for a day, they’re the kinds of things that I really love, and getting that quality time with someone so that you can actually build a proper story, not just a 20-minute interview, you’re spending a whole day with them. I think what has always made Vanity Fair so amazing, is that they’re spending so much time with the subjects, and they get great stories as a result.

Allison
The time is the thing that nobody seems to have anymore, isn’t it?

Kirsten
That’s where publicists, I think, just get it so wrong. They think you can do stuff over the phone. We get so many say, “Can’t we just do over email?” “No, we can’t. We’re not going to get a good result. You’re not going to be happy, we’re not going to be happy. Let’s do it properly.”

Allison
As an editor are you still doing any writing at all?

Kirsten
No, not really. I did little bits and pieces after — I had lots and lots of steps between Who, I ended up working at Fairfax for ten years, I’ve come from Fairfax to In Style where I’ve been for two years. When I was at Fairfax I did a bit of writing, again, even when I was in an editing capacity.

No, I don’t get to write as much as I would love anymore. I write my editor’s letter, that’s about it.

Allison
That is something that I think when you sort of make that jump into an editor role, or those sort of operational lines of the editing end of any publication you do take a step away from the writing, don’t you? You have to kind of make a decision about if that’s what you want to do. If you want to be a writer you can’t really edit a major publication as well, can you?

Kirsten
I don’t think so, because if you write when you’re an editor you’re not dedicating the time to writing, and you should. You’re trying to fit it in around jobs, instead of giving that subject the attention that it deserves.

I was at Sydney magazine for almost six years editing that, and I guess even though I wasn’t actually writing myself, I might spend two days editing a 4,000 word story. You are immersed in the words and you are immersed in the writing, it’s just very different, instead of actually starting with that blank page. I’ve got admiration for writers starting from that blank page, because I remember how hard it can be.

Allison
Oh, yes. I still look at it regularly, that blank page.

Let’s talk about a typical day for you. Is there such a thing?

Kirsten
Now at InStyle?

Allison
Yeah.

Kirsten
No, not really. I feel very blessed if I have a day in the office, because I’m often out and about. I guess my job is divided up into sort of four or five areas now. Yes, I deal with the magazine, but I’m also overseeing our digital strategy, our online, our social media. Obviously, advertising — checking in with clients all the time and that’s what takes me out of the office a lot. I oversee marketing. This week and next week I’m hosting four events. The game has changed, whereas once used to spend day after day in an office looking at 4,000 features, I’m sort of chasing my tail the whole time here.

Allison
That must be exhausting.

Kirsten
I would say it’s very relentless. I love it, I love the chase, but honestly I have a day in the office today and I’m just absolutely in heaven. I sit by my computer, I can catch up with my staff, I can read some finals, I’m not doing it externally.

Allison
Fair enough.

As an editor when you’re looking at sort of freelance writers, whether that be at InStyle or doing your time at Fairfax or whatever, what are you looking for in a freelance writer?

Kirsten
In a writer or the work they’re presenting to me?

Allison
Both of those things.

Kirsten
I think from the writer I’m looking for someone who’s quite hungry and who has a real passion for the particular story they’re pitching and that they’re really thought about the angles and how that story is tailored for that publication, the appropriateness of the story.

I used to get a lot of pitches at Sydney magazine, particularly, and nine times out of ten I would get, “Oh, I’d like to do a story on ‘X’…” and it was never really very well thought out. For me, occasionally I’d get a, “I want to do a story on this… and this is my angle… and this is the intro I would think about… and these are the people I would interview… and these are subjects I’d cover off…” then we’d start a conversation. Obviously, if I knew of the writer and knew they were capable of delivering the work.

Allison
Is that important, knowing that they’re going to be able to deliver the work for you?

Kirsten
Well, I think it depends on what publication you’re pitching to. I mean I was working for Sydney Morning Herald on their premium magazine, there was a lot of expectation that the writing would be absolutely world-class. We did, we spent — I would only run three or four features in that magazine and they would, there would be one that would be 3,500 words, there would be one that would be 2,000, there would be one that was 2,500. These are long reads and there was definitely an expectation from me, from our readers, from management that they would be the best quality they could be. I wouldn’t have taken someone who didn’t have great publishing experience on the Sydney magazine.

But, I’ve worked in other publications where you might give someone who hasn’t had as much experience a go, if they came up with a great idea and were willing to work with you to make it as good as it could be.

Allison
Where do you think most freelancers go wrong then? They just basically go, “I want to do a story on ‘X’,” without telling you why it’s going to work for you?

Kirsten
I think there’s that. I think sometimes they haven’t done their research on the publication, the story might not even be vaguely appropriate for the publication. I think sometimes they might not, because they don’t have that relationship with the publication they might not know that four weeks ago we just did that exact same story. I found there were lots of just basic errors that freelancers made during my time at Fairfax that you just kind of roll your eyes territory.

Allison
And regularly, all the time, basically?

Kirsten
All the time. But, then I remember one who emailed me and had an amazing idea. He just came up with this fantastic idea that was completely fresh and hadn’t been done before and I didn’t know him, but we looked into him and thought, “OK, maybe this guy could do it.” He had good writing credentials and we got him to do the story and he did an amazing job. But, again, he gave me the best pitch, it was a fresh idea, he thought about all of the steps, and he gave me the whole pitch of how that story would be. He had actually done some research he made some phone calls, he had done a great job.

Allison
It’s interesting too, because like different editors that I’ve spoken to like their pitches in different ways. One editor I spoke to wants no more than three sentences, if you can’t sum the story up in three sentences you don’t understand the angle well enough, whereas others want almost like an outline before they’ll even open the conversation with you about the idea.

Kirsten
That’s tricky I guess, that’s where it gets tricky from a freelancer’s perspective because you’re trying to write a story pitch completely blind and not knowing. I always sort of pride myself on the fact, and I did at Fairfax and I hope that none of your listeners will contradict me here, but I always tried to respond to everyone, if someone came back to me and asked for advice then I would give it. All I can say is, for me, when I was at Fairfax, and less of a situation here at InStyle, because I have a team of 30, but at Fairfax if someone had written into me and said, “I’ve got this idea for you, but I’d like to know would you prefer a quick grab or a proper outline,” I would have been happy to write back and say, “Proper outline please.”

Allison
OK, right.

Kirsten
Look, I know everyone is different and that’s one of the challenges for freelancers.

Allison
It is one of the challenges and I think it’s about the persistence of it too, because sometimes going that extra step and asking the question as to, “Can I outline this story for you?” Or something like that can actually be the difference.

Kirsten
Sometimes that would absolutely piss them off to do as well. I appreciate the contradictory nature of it.

Allison
I know, it’s a difficult thing, but I guess persistence is the key to it, as far as, “Well, it didn’t work of that one, let’s try somewhere else with a new pitch,” with a completely different angle for that publication.

Kirsten
Let’s face it, a great idea is a great idea. Even if it’s not 100 percent right for my publication if I see it’s a great idea I go, when I was at Fairfax I would go, “That’s a great idea, it’s not going to work for me, but I think you should go and talk to ‘X’ about it,” because who doesn’t want to see a great idea get put into a story so that our readers can read, if not for me, for someone else.

Allison
That’s right. Let’s just talk a little bit about fashion writing, because I have worked at Vogue and Claire and various places, and I know InStyle is obviously very fashion-based, it’s quite a specific skill, isn’t it? Fashion writing? What do you think are the main components of a good fashion story, so to speak?

Kirsten
I mean I’ve only been at InStyle for two years, I’ve dabbled in fashion over the years and have had quite a bit to do with fashion over the years, but I’ve never worked on an exclusive fashion publication before InStyle. The thing that I didn’t appreciate before I came here was how much of a skill it is just to write, and I’m not kidding, the write off, the captions with the advice, the quirky little things about a certain length of skirt, because the fact is you’ve got to find a fresh way to say the same thing over and over again. You’re basically giving advice, the advice will differ depending on what the outfits are, but you’re trying to find different words for dresses and skirts and sequins and embroidery, you know? Just to put a fresh spin on it.

Our fashion news editor here writes so many pages in the magazine I can’t tell you. I think she does an extraordinary job in making it fresh and snappy and appropriate for my audience, which is a skill.

Lots of fashion journalism is boring.

Allison
Yeah.

Kirsten
You know?

Allison
You’re not supposed to say that.

Kirsten
A lot of it out there is. It’s our job to make — because fashion should be fun. Fashion should be accessible and also at InStyle what we really want to do is give people advice, how to put outfits together and make sure that you’re not just looking at a pretty picture, because my readers can find pretty pictures everywhere these days, it’s about giving them that outfit, “And here’s some advice you can take and use in your own life.” That’s what we really aim to do. We have to be useful.

Allison
Fair enough. 

People have been talking about the death of magazines for a very long time now. What are your thoughts on that?

Kirsten
Well, they’ve been talking about it for at least ten years and I’m still here.

All I can tell you is InStyle is tracking very nicely, we are so steady month after month after month. When I look back on my past six issues they are just steady as she goes, which is really gratifying because it’s not the case everywhere. We get this market scan data and I can see my competitors around me and I can see what’s happening to them.

But, I think the fact is that with magazines you’ve got to find your niche, and you’ve got to provide something that people can’t get everywhere else. I think those magazines that try to be everything for people, I do think that’s tricky territory, because you’ve got to have a service, you’ve got to have something — home titles at the moment are going through the roof, they’re doing so well. It’s because they just have this great package, they’re talking to one specific audience who’s hungry for information about home wares, home trends, how to renovate the kitchen or whatever it is.

For us, at InStyle, we know we’re quite niche, we aren’t trying to be absolutely so intimidating and high, high, high only high fashion, like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, because I think that can be too intimidating, and we’re not trying to be Lifestyle magazine with bits of fashion throw in, like some of the other titles. We’re very specific and I know who my reader is. I think that’s where magazines will survive. If you know your reader, you know what she needs and how can we best deliver that to her, then you’ve got a strong proposition and you’ve got a very loyal audience.

Allison
That’s right.

Kirsten
We had an event on Monday night with 110 readers, we did a forum with Claudia Karvan, the actress, Elizabeth Broderick the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, and Jodie Fox, who does Shoes of Prey the online shoes website. It was so great to see all of those women, those readers, and they looked exactly like what I always think they look like. When I talked to them they were exactly who I always say they are. That’s really gratifying because if I know my market everything I create is for her. And that’s why magazines will survive.

Allison
Let’s round this off with your top three tips for would-be freelance writers.

Kirsten
In terms of when they sit down to write?

Allison
In terms of either when they sit down to write, when they sit down to pitch — like people who are trying to make their mark in freelance writing and build a career, what would your top three tips for them be?

Kirsten
My first tip would be do all the research, like know your subject inside out, be a mini encyclopedia on that subject so that you can espouse it.

Know what to cut out, because one thing that drives editors crazy is asking for a 2,000 word article and getting a 4,000 word article. You should be able to take a step away, take a day’s break, step away from it and come back to it and know what doesn’t work or what is extraneous.

For me, load it up with anecdotes. I often think that where freelancers, or writers in general often go wrong is they don’t start with that anecdote that’s going to really draw you into the story. If I think back to all the stories I’ve edited, and god knows there’s probably thousands, I think about the intro is often where I go back to a writer and go, “Nah, you’re not grabbing me.” I always say to people, “You’ve done your interview, you’ve spent all this time with that person, you’ve done all your research, you go to dinner with a friend and they go ‘tell me something about your interview,’ what are the things that you’re telling your friend? What’s the one thing that is your dinner party story?” That’s pretty much, generally speaking, what you should be leading with.

Allison
Right.

Kirsten
You’re impressing your friends with your story and you want to impress those readers as well, whether it’s some great insight, it’s the time they broke down and cried, or it just might be something from their childhood that they tell you, but some anecdotal insight into that person that makes a reader go, “Oh, wow, I’ve got to keep reading this story.”

Allison
Work on your hook.

Kirsten
Work on your hook. And also make sure your kick is great as well. Often people — it just sort of floats away at the end. Come on, slam it. You’ve had someone with you on a journey for 2,500 words, make them love the end as well.

Allison
Give them a satisfactory ending.

Kirsten
Yeah, definitely.

Allison
I think we’ve reached a satisfactory ending. Thank you so much for your time today, Kirsten. Good luck with all of those mini thousand million events and other things that you’ve got coming up.

Kirsten
My pleasure, Allison. I loved talking to you. Thank you. May we all be passionate about writing again.

Allison
There you go. OK. Bye.

Kirsten
Thank you.

 


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