Welcome to Journalist Spotlight, a Q&A series with a journalist and ProfNet user. This installment belongs to Rachel Weingarten, an internationally recognized lifestyle writer, style columnist, and award-winning author. Weingarten currently pens a style column for Parade.com and opinion essays for NYC’s most widely read daily newspaper amNewYork.
Although Rachel Weingarten has written for CNN Digital, Esquire.com, Men’s Health, USA Today, and other top media outlets, her career path has not always been so straightforward.
“I’ve learned a lot from my interesting career trajectory which included stints as a celebrity makeup artist to founding the first low-fat mini muffin company approved by the FDA,” she explains. “I’ve taken the skills that I’ve learned and found a way to pull them all together in my writing.”
Weingarten’s beats include beauty, fashion, style, business, travel, luxury, spa, marketing, pop culture, and trends. You can learn more about her here.
What was your first professional writing job?
I started answering this question several times in several different ways. It occurs to me that there’s no one way to be a professional writer these days. So while my magazine writing started under a pseudonym, my copywriting/speechwriting/ghostwriting started when I was still part of the corporate world.
What type of stories do you cover?
I used to use the tagline “Style is my business,” but I feel that I’ve expanded beyond that. Then I’d sometimes describe myself as writing about “Business and style and the business of style” which opens things up to the business world and business of fashion and beauty.
I like to think that I cover all aspects of style, from what you wear to what you say, to where you travel, the things you choose to consume and surround yourself with.
I love pop culture and trends and breaking them down to figure out how to help my readers feel more in tune to evolving and emerging trends.
So in a nutshell – I’m a style writer with a very elastic description of the word style. I love covering consumer issues, shopping, gifts, the kinds of things that people splurge on. In this way, I can advise them on what’s hype and what might be a worthwhile investment.
Can you tell me what a typical day is like in the life of a freelance writer?
There is no typical day. And just when I think I’ve got a routine going – it changes.
I guess the closest I could tell you is the guy they’d show in old movies who would be at some sort of carnival and spinning dozens of plates at one time. That’s the typical day.
Brainstorming stories. Reading through the latest releases. Noticing something in my neighborhood or grocery store or various social media feeds and wondering if this is part of a larger trend and then thinking about how to pitch my various editors a story about it. Interviewing sources. Distilling my notes. Answering feedback from my readers.
I love the fact that no matter which publications I write for, my readers feel that they can write to me for further clarification, need for more information or even with questions. I get so many emails with questions about what to buy or wear for a special occasion. Advice needed on everything from fragrance to home decor.
Writing stories. Revising stories. Analyzing my most popular pieces and trying to figure out how to keep on top of my game. Bemoaning the publications in the world that find it acceptable to underpay writers. Taking notes on every conceivable surface and texting myself thoughts at all hours. And then trying to sleep and remembering that I have about 83 emails that I still haven’t answered.
Oh. And sometimes just trying to write essays for the pleasure of it all.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about freelancing?
That it’s a breezy venture where you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and that that’s all it is. I’m a business person whose stock in trade happens to be feature stories. I’m my own boss, but I also have many bosses to answer to in the form of editors and publishers.
What has been the most difficult assignment to cover?
I was recently asked by The Guardian to write an editorial about women and money as part of their Money + Feminism series. I’d been reading a lot about how younger women have rejected the notion of feminism and I find it by turns depressing and anachronistic.
Without strong women paving the way for us, we wouldn’t be able to make our voices heard professionally. It was hard for me to be dispassionate about the subject and try to present a logical and practical reason to understand and embrace an ongoing conversation about evolving feminism. (You can read Weingarten’s article here: http://bit.ly/rcwguardian)
How do you use social media as part of your job?
I both love and hate social media. I keep tapped into the pulse of popular topics from TV shows to snack foods and also try to gauge the authenticity of trends. I love sourcing quotes and resources as well. And then there’s the shameless self promotion aspect!
What’s your advice for someone thinking of going into freelance writing and also for someone who’s just starting out in the business?
I think you have to really know your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a great writer but poor with time management, it won’t work for you. If you have a super thin skin, you’ll have a hard time dealing with potential rejection from editors and outlets.
And please, whatever you do, don’t accept jobs that don’t pay you or underpay you. There’s been a horrible downward spiral for far too long in the industry with major players undervaluing skilled writers by either refusing to pay writers or offering them crumbs instead of payment worthy of their talents.
New writers are made to believe that it’s worth trading their integrity and talents for exposure. It isn’t.
Have you ever thought of doing something other than freelance writing?
I do! I lead workshops and teach about personal branding and cosmetics and fragrance marketing on the graduate level. I also am a pretty popular public speaker and lead workshops on subjects including business etiquette, communication and personal branding.
If I had the head for it or could afford to, though, I’d probably go to culinary school. I’ve taken some classes at ICE and it’s transformed the way I interact with food and food preparation. I was always a great cook, but I’d love to become a vegan chef. Either that or starting a non-profit. I’m always finding causes near to my heart and wish I could commit a chunk of change to something I truly believe in.
What do you do in your free time?
I’m an avid crafter (my mother opened up a crafts/yarn shop when I was only two) so I’m always crocheting or needle pointing and want to start painting again.
I also love traveling and rediscovering my neighborhood and city. I’m a native Brooklynite and I vow that this will be the year that I finally finish my first mystery in what I hope will be a series set in and around my ‘hood, The Real Brooklyn Girl mysteries.
Evelyn Tipacti is a community relations specialist at ProfNet, a service that connects journalists with expert sources. She is a former broadcast journalist with years of experience behind the television camera and radio mic. Members of the media can register for PR Newswire for Journalists to begin using ProfNet and other free media tools.