Speaking with: Kate Lawler, Executive Editor, Ladies’ Home Journal

(from the archives: originally interviewed and published while on assignment for Writer’s Market on December 2, 2008)

Kate Lawler, Executive Editor, Ladies’ Home Journal

Kate Lawler, Executive Editor of Ladies’ Home Journal, is still giving the same advice to beginning writers that I received a decade ago from an editor who took me under his wing: start local and use that experience to pitch the national publications.  It is practical advice that writers would be wise to heed, especially in a tough, competitive market where hundreds of queries cross the desks of editors at every national publication with only a few slots available for the brightest and best.

When I call Kate at her office in New York at our appointed interview time, other responsibilities have invaded her schedule  “She’ll call you right back,” her assistant tells me.  “She says within fifteen minutes.”

True to her word, the phone rings a short time later, and we talk first in generalities of the common mistakes writers make.  We talk of trends in the marketplace and of the shifting demographics within the country itself.

“I think magazines are always aware of demographic changes,” Lawler says.  “Take, for instance, the rise in Hispanic language magazines;  that is directly due to changes in demographics.  And we are all aware of the enormous Gen Y/Millennial generation. The older end of this group is in their mid- to late 20s, and they are magazine readers.”

And then she speaks to my question, “But specific magazines – their demographic doesn’t really shift; they tend to maintain their core readership.  For us, that’s women in their forties.  That doesn’t really change.”

I ask this powerhouse of an editor if she has always liked to write.  She stops to think for a moment before she answers.  “Yes.  Yes, I did.  I must have.  You know, I majored in English in college.”  After beginning as an editorial assistant at Self Magazine, Lawler says she spent the core of her career within a broad range of women’s services magazines.  “Until recently, I was Executive Editor of Parents,” she says, “and now, I’m here at Ladies Home Journal as Executive Editor.”

I think of the advice she gave at the beginning of our visit – start small and use that to move on to bigger things – is solid.  Lawler ‘s own career mirrors this path.  It is refreshing to see someone living the advice given to others.

Update: Lawler still serves as the Executive Editor at Ladies’ Home Journal. You can read a bit more about her here.

Speaking With: Allison Winn Scotch

As I begin porting posts from my old website, I’ll be sharing a few of the more popular ones here. Below is an interview with Best-Selling Author, Allison Winn Scotch, which I conducted on assignment for Writer’s Market. Originally published December 6, 2008.

Allison Winn Scotch

Allison Winn Scotch, the New York Times Best-selling author of Time of My Life and of The Department of Lost and Found, had the chance not long ago to read through some of her earliest writing.  “My parents moved recently and packed up my childhood room.  There were some diaries that I don’t remember keeping, but they had really fostered this love of writing,” she says from her home office in New York.

Winn Scotch tells me she is hard at work on her third novel which she sold on a pitch, an enviable perk of her successful writing career.  And, while her first New York Times best-selling title was a huge success, she says it took a lot of varied experiences in her career to get her ready to write The Department of Lost and Found.  “I started writing fiction at twenty-eight,” she says.  “I started a manuscript and got stymied.  I didn’t know how to finish it, didn’t know what I was doing.  A year later, I finally finished it and got an agent, but it didn’t sell.”

She pauses, then, to talk a bit about her writing life before books.  A graduate of Penn State, she began her career with a public relations firm, pursued a career in acting – landing a few shows and acquiring a SAG card along the way.  “I was out in L.A. auditioning when a friend called me.  She was beginning this start-up, so I helped her launch itsybits, which catered to petite women.  I started writing for the online magazine that went along with the website.”

One thing led to another, and soon Winn Scotch found herself ghost-writing for celebrities.  With a ghost-written title under her belt, she set her sights on the magazine industry, where a litany of magazine articles in such heavyweights as Family Circle, Cooking Light, and Glamour kept her busy.  “I don’t do much freelancing anymore,” says Winn Scotch.  “I still do some celebrity stuff, but I make my income from being an author.”

Winn Scotch, now married and the mother of two young children, says that her best advice for aspiring writers is to “… trust your instincts, but only to a point.  Sometimes authors think what they’ve written is really, really good.  They don’t let it sit long enough to be objective.  The accomplishment is not in finishing the book; that doesn’t mean it’s done.”

Winn Scotch also maintains a popular blog she created to help take some of the mystery out of the business end of writing, Ask Allison.

Update: Winn Scotch has gone one to publish two new books since this interview: The One That I Want and The Song Remains The Same.

Speaking With: Molly Friedrich, Literary Agent, NYC

I recently received a private message on my Facebook page asking about an interview I’d conducted with NYC literary agent Molly Friedrich for an assignment with Writer’s Market. Here is the original blog post about that interview.
Originally published November 22, 2008

When Molly Friedrich, a respected power-house literary agent, calls me in the late afternoon, she is just back from one of those famed New York City “publisher’s lunches” with one of her high-performing clients.  “I don’t get to meet with her all that often, so, yes, it was a wonderful lunch,” she says.  In a town known for being brusque and down to business, Molly is a refreshing blend of straight-forward honesty and next-door-neighbor warmth.  Named one of the most influential literary agents by Portfolio.com, Molly can lay claim to almost a handful of Pulitzer prize-winning authors and a long list of titles on the New York Times bestseller list.

I’ve arranged this interview to gain her valued insight for an upcoming feature in the Writer’s Market 2010, and from my initial emailed request she is surprisingly accessible and willing to share advice.  I have a list of questions I want to get through during our interview, and she answers them all and even manages to take off on a different tangent or two.  She talks about some of the more outlandish queries she’s received.  When I ask her what a good query letter is like, she jostles the phone, “Hold on,” she says, calling to her assistant.  “Bring me that letter, the one that …” her voice trails off as she moves about her office.

Soon she is back with me.  “Okay, here it is.”

“Dear Ms. Friedrich, “ she says, and then stops reading.  “See?  She doesn’t try to buddy up with me.  She doesn’t know me, so she addresses me with professional courtesy.  Ms. Friedrich,” she enunciates the name again for emphasis.  “Also, she spells my name right.  There is nothing more annoying than having someone send a query when they haven’t even done enough research to get the name right.  Get the name right.  It’s important.”

I type fiendishly on my Mac to keep up as she talks a mile a minute.  Molly continues reading the letter, detailing why the different parts appeal to her and even asking what I think of it.  She is right, of course.  Not only is it well written, the concept is a winner – a modern-day dilemma delivered in a fresh perspective with a compelling voice.  And I realize that on top of an excellent interview, I’ve just been privy to a one-on-one mentoring session with one of today’s most coveted literary agents.

I thank her for her time and promise to get back with her at a later day for a follow-up.  We are not off the phone five minutes when an email arrives in my inbox with a quick note to tell me one more piece of advice she wants to share.  I hit the reply button and then panic.  How do I start?  Molly – … we’ve just talked, but is that too familiar?  Dear Ms… no.  That’s just stuffy.  Leave off the salutation altogether?  I finally settle on Molly and thank her for her generosity of time.  After all, I’m from New Mexico, where formal means you wear you new Levi’s as opposed to the comfortable ones.

Be sure to check out Molly Friedrich’s stellar advice in the 2010 Writer’s Market.

Writer’s Market

When I first decided to test the waters as a freelance writer, I was an exhausted mother with two elementary-aged kids and a very sick newborn. I was battling post-partum depression, stuck in the house every day and needed an escape. I couldn’t use either of my two majors in college – elementary special education and Spanish, because I needed to stay at home. It seemed like a bleak, dark year ahead, and I wasn’t sure how I’d get through it.

Funny enough, it was my husband who suggested that I consider writing from home. He’s never been a fan of my writing style and to this day has only read a handful of articles I’ve written. He’s never read either of my fiction manuscripts. But he knew I loved to write and encouraged me to give it a try. Every elective in college had been honors level English and Creative Writing classes, but I wondered if I really had what it took to write on a regular basis.

I searched online and found a very clunky writer’s forum – the original Writer’s Digest forum where every post was screened and would often take several days to appear. A seasoned writer or two who frequented the site answered my endless questions about the trade of writing and encouraged me to try my hand at it. Both suggested a single book to get started – the Writer’s Market.

I checked out an older copy from the library and scanned the pages of listed markets – book publishers, magazines, and periodicals. It was the first glimmer of hope; surely one market in the hefty book would be a good match for me. I eventually bought my own copy, which is stored in a box along with my first year’s worth of writing notes and published clips. The dogeared, highlighted book helped launch a career and was often better therapy than a paid professional during that first tough year.

I’ve had a lot of published bylines since that first year, and I honestly thought the giddy feeling of finally seeing one’s name in print was a faded memory, kind of like the feeling of a first kiss. Sure there are others, some far better than that first one, but none are ever quite as memorable or reach the heights of emotion as the very first time.

I was wrong.

When I saw my byline in this year’s Writer’s Market with my article about syndication, I felt that silly schoolgirl giddiness all over again. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I paid for my deluxe version at our local Border’s bookstore. And I couldn’t put it down once I got home. I scanned the rest of the articles – some very good ones I want to read – and marvelled at how many more markets there are now than when I first started. But then I returned to my own article and read every last word of it. Robert Brewer did a fantastic job of editing, and I am very grateful for the chance to contribute to the book which helped launch my own career.

I may not have a lot more “first kiss” moments left, but this one – well, I’ll remember it for a long time.