Friday, October 27, 2006

Q and A with Two Custom Publishing Editors

Taking a break from your questions to delve into the world of custom publishing. (Ooh, does that make it sound sexy?) I'm a huge fan of writing for custom publications, but a lot of writers don't really know what this is, so I thought I'd pick the brains of two of my favorite editors, Casey Casteel and Michelle Reneau, who manage many of the magazines published by American Airlines Custom Publishing Division. (Please note: this is NOT a call to pitch them. They were kind enough to answer these questions, so please be respectful of the fact that they're already being more than generous with their time! PLEASE. I cannot stress that more. I plan to do Q/As with more editors, but won't do them if I hear that editors are being overwhelmed with queries from this blog - I'd just feel badly for them and wouldn't want to impose.) For more on custom publishing, including other custom publishers, check out the Custom Publishing Council.

Also, do check back next week! Taking this brain-picking concept one step further, I've asked a dozen or so successful writer friends to answer a few questions about the industry/freelancing world, so I'll be turning the blog over to their insightful answers...I think it's always good to offer fresh perspectives, just in case you were getting sick of moi. :)

Okay, without further ado, Casey and Michelle:

1) What exactly is "custom publishing?" How many clients does AA Custom publishing have?

Here’s the canned response from our website: Custom publishing is the art of tailoring marketing messages—via magazines, e-content, or other channels—to make them meaningful for their intended audience.

The thing is, a custom magazine can tell a story that an ad can’t. It can educate, position the company as the authority, and expand the typical reach of their message. It also allows companies to develop relationships with their customers, positioning themselves as leaders in their particular field. It’s another way to win brand loyalty.

2) How do you come up with the story ideas for each magazine? (i.e., do you sit down with the clients or develop them in-house?)

It depends on how involved the client wants to be. Generally we have story idea meetings within our group and then present the lineup to the client. Every so often the client will have a specific topic they want us to cover, but we always go to them with our ideas first. However, at the end of the day they have the final say on the editorial lineup. Then we have them sign off on the agreed-upon lineup before we assign anything.

3) Do you often accept pitches from writers or do you tend to assign out to them?

It’s nice to get pitches because we run out of ideas. But because of the nature of the business, unless the magazine is open to topics besides client-driven stories (for example, My Home Life or IN: Mind, Body, Life), we usually already have all the ideas in place.

4) Along those lines, how does a writer get in your good graces?

Well first I’ll be selfish and say it gets old hearing “How do I get my foot in the door with American Way?” But other than that it’s the simple graces: turn the story in as complete a format as possible, get it in on time, and be open to changes or rewrites if it’s necessary. We don’t have many rewrites, but sometimes they’re inevitable. You have to know we feel terrible asking for them, so we really appreciate writers who don’t give us a difficult time about it. We’re all pretty easygoing here and we like to keep the atmosphere the same way.

5) How does writing for a custom publisher differ from writing from a consumer magazine? If at all!

Again, because of the nature of the business, we usually have the contacts for sources. We also pretty much have the direction of the story laid out, which makes it easier on the writer a lot of times.

6) What can a writer do to impress you and/or ensure that you'll work together again?

Same rules apply as to question 4.

7) Any tips for breaking into custom publishing? Should a writer have a specific background in the magazine you publish (i.e. automotive for a car magazine) or do you care more about his or her previous writing credentials?

Well, it definitely helps to have a background in the areas we cover, but it’s not essential. If you don’t, just do your research on our clients. For our regional publications, we pretty much are tied to using local writers, but that’s not a deal-breaker either. So, really, just keep in touch with us. We may not have something going on at the exact moment you write us, but when things come up, we tend to lean towards people we know and have had good experiences with.

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