Welcome to our SPOTLIGHT feature, where we highlight a journalist and ProfNet user to share their personal story and insight with you.
This SPOTLIGHT belongs to Rachel Weingarten, an internationally recognized lifestyle writer, style columnist and award-winning author. She’s a prolific freelance writer and weekly style columnist for Parade.com, and opinion columnist for NYC’s most widely read daily newspaper amNewYork. Please read more about Rachel below.
We hope you find SPOTLIGHT both enjoyable and informative.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Haven't we all? ;) 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. I've taken the skills that I've learned and found a way to pull them all together in my writing.
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. Content creation would be way back in the dawn of the internet when I was creating and launching some of the earliest online magazines for designers and cosmetics companies.
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 we 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 advice do you have for PR professionals who want to pitch you a story?
Take a minute or two to actually read something I've written recently. I get so many pitches from PR people who read something I wrote a few years back and pitch very specific stories based on my former columns or business needs. Don't try to cram or reform the same pitch that you've pitched every single other person in your address book. It really helps if you can give me an angle that might work for my particular audience.
What should they always do and never do?
Contact me in the way that I've mentioned that I prefer. I hate being phone stalked by publicists who have tracked my phone number down somehow. I'm fine chatting if we already have a relationship, but please don't call me numerous times if we've never worked together previously. There is no one definitive way to interact with a writer. So taking the time (when possible, we know you're busy too!) to get to know the foibles and quirks of writers will mean that the overall experience will be so much smoother.
What's the best way for someone in PR to start a working relationship with you?
Send me an introduction email. Feel free to pitch me a client or product or ask about the stories I'm working on. Bear in mind that I get hundreds of emails each week with similar pitches, so while I might be swamped, I really do try to respond.
Do you have advice for members who respond to ProfNet queries?
Read my request. You'd be amazed at how many PR people will zero in on a single word and then pitch on a topic that has absolutely nothing to do with me or anything I've ever written about.
Or worse, they'll pitch completely off topic and try to bring in the most tenuous connection to what I truly seek. Also, I have a specific email address that I've set up for ProfNet, so I know if you've been mining the queries for email addresses. Don't add me to your distribution list just because you can. If I work with a publicist I'll give her my work email or personal email thereby ensuring that I have earlier and easier access to future pitches. And whatever you do, please don't send me a link to an article that's been written about the person you're pitching or a link to their website and tell me to read through for more info. I can easily search on my own, my hope is to connect with experts or resources I might not otherwise have had access to or known about.
What type of experts do you prefer to work with?
I love quirky people. Anyone who has an interesting background or story or product or niche. I'm not enamored with the blanket message. I love interviewing people who aren't so smooth that they tell the same story to everyone they speak with. I'd rather build a rapport and learn about what makes you or your knowledge or product unique.
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. 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.
Are you currently working on something other than your daily assignments?
Yes! My new book Ancient Prayer: Channeling Your Faith 365 Days of the Year will be published by Fall River Press in September and available exclusively at Barnes and Noble stores and online at BN.com. I am so proud of that book. It tapped into the wisdom of the ages and tries to offer advice for dealing with day to day life. I'm trying to write some related essays, set up appearances and partnerships and events.
I'm also trying to plan my book party and would love to connect with potential partners or sponsors for events, readings and more.
It's such a gorgeous book. I'm so proud of it!
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.
Rachel Weingarten writes mostly about beauty, fashion, style, business, travel, luxury, spa, marketing, pop culture and trends and frequently dabbles in topics that aren’t as easily defined.
Rachel is the author of written three non-fiction books. In addition to Ancient Prayer: Channeling Your Faith 365 Days of the Year, she’s the author of Career and Corporate Cool (An Entrepreneur magazine pick for book of the year & CareerBuilder pick for most interesting career book of the year) and Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ’40s-’60s which will hopefully be reissued later this year (A NY Public Library book of the year/book for the teen age). She’s also ghostwritten a handful of other best sellers.
Rachel has written for top media outlets including CNN Digital, Esquire.com, Forbes Life, Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Four Seasons, Men’s Health, Newsday, Crain’s New York Business, Newsday, The Guardian, USA Today, USA Weekend and many others. She also created and acted as the on-air talent for a show on CNN about women entrepreneurs called Enterprising Women. Rachel leads personal branding workshops at NYU, has lectured about the history of the beauty industry at FIT and created business etiquette & style workshops for Fortune 100 companies.
You can find Rachel here: