Essence’s Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa K. De Luca, On What It Really Takes To Run A Magazine

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Imagine this: You’ve got 30 minutes – and not a second more – to have a one-on-one conversation with the Editor-in-Chief of a magazine that you grew up idolizing. What do you do? What do you say? You try to keep your cool the moment the assistant confirms the exact date and time of that which you’ll be speaking with Vanessa K. De Luca, the Editor-in-Chief of Essence Magazine – a publication that I vividly remember reading while waiting at the beauty salon as a teen and seeing on my aunt’s coffee table when visiting. To say, “It’s a dream come true” is a serious understatement.

As the co-author of supermodel Tyra Bank’s 1998 self-help book, Tyra’s Beauty Inside & Out, Vanessa, who is a Columbia School of Journalism graduate, has practically done it all. With a career spanning over two decades at several publications, including Life and Glamour magazines, this woman is a veteran, and after being a part of Essence‘s editorial team for more than a decade, Vanessa was named Editor-in-Chief last August.

Here, Vanessa discusses how she went from being an editorial assistant at Glamour to landing her dream job of being the Editor-in-Chief at Essence, as well as the daily challenges that come along with running a magazine.

A Royal Point of View: How does one work his or her way up to becoming an Editor-in-Chief of a magazine?

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Queen Latifah showing us exactly what royalty looks like on the cover of Essence Magazine’s current issue.

Vanessa: Well, that’s a good question. I don’t know that there’s any one particular path to follow. It just so happens that in my case, I was already at Essence and I kind of worked my way up, which I think was extremely helpful being able to now run the magazine because I have an understanding of what every department does and what their needs are. You know, when I first started out, I was in fashion and beauty, so I got a real sense of how that department runs and the relationships that need to be built, in order to make those pages look amazing. Working with the beauty director and cover editor, I got a sense of what went into coming up with the concepts for a cover and the team you need to assemble – all that.

Working in almost every department of the magazine on the editorial side has really given me a sense of what some of the strongest content is in the various sections and what to look for in editors for those particular sections. And then I think it’s also been very important to work with the business side of the publication as well and understanding what their needs are. As an executive editor, which is the number two position, I got a chance to work with the sales team, marketing team, and PR and promotions team and really understand what it takes to make the magazine sell. And I think an Editor-in-Chief’s job now is not just putting together great content. It’s also being able to be a brand ambassador for a magazine. You may have to do a lot of public appearances and you have to comfortable and flexible with all of it.

A Royal of Point View: What makes a great Editor-in-Chief?

Vanessa: I think it’s being flexible. And I say flexible because the current climate of media – it changes daily, and you really have to be able to shift and move as the business changes and be comfortable with that. If you’re not comfortable with that, you’re really not going to survive in not only print media but digital media and any other extension, whether it’s eCommerce or doing more live events. Whatever the case, it’s not enough to just think of the magazine as your only footprint. You really have to understand there are a number of ways to reach people and then be decisive enough to know which are the right ones for you and your brand and which ones you can pass on because they’re just not a good fit.

A Royal Point of View: A lot of people fail to realize that once you become the Editor-in-Chief of a publication, the position becomes less creative and more managerial. What skills are required to succeed as EIC? I know you mentioned once that knowing how to balance a budget is a must.

Vanessa: For sure. There are so many skills you will need to have and be comfortable with, such as managing a budget and having a conversation with your finance team about how to manage your costs. I think one of the greatest skills is being able to evaluate talent and to understand what’s a good editor, what’s a good writer – you know, who’s going to be a good asset to your team and then evaluable how that person fits into that overall plan for your team. Some of the best people I’ve ever worked for have said that you want to surround yourself with people who are stronger than you are. You want to surround yourself with people who have strengths, talents, and abilities that maybe aren’t your strong suits. And then you also have to be comfortable allowing those people to do what they do best and not feel threatened by it or feel any less because everyone has different talents.

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The ladies of prime time: Alfre Woodard, Laverne Cox, Nicole Beharie, and Danai Gurira shine on the cover of Essence Magazine’s October 2014 issue.

Being able to recognize that talent and give them a chance to shine – I think that’s where everybody wins. I think that’s why we have such a strong magazine right now. The people who are on this team are really quite extraordinary. And I had a hand in either hiring or developing many of the people, and I understand what their strengths are and how to play up those strengths. I mean, that’s just two things you’ll need to know well beyond just being a good editor. You also have to be open to admitting your weaknesses and tap into some of the other members who live, sleep and breath those skills so that you can become up to speed. Having knowledge of the digital space, especially social media is critical to being an editor-in-chief in today’s world. You have to know what’s going on.

A Royal Point of View: Did you always know you wanted to become an Editor-in-Chief of a magazine?

Vanessa: Once I made it to the number two position, [which is the executive editor], yes, I thought it would be great to become an Editor-in-Chief at Essence, but truly, I have always wanted to work at magazines – my mom and I used to make our own when I was kid.

A Royal Point of View: What was your first big break?

Vanessa: I would say it was probably my first job in publishing as an editorial assistant at Glamour Magazine. That really was my first big break for two reasons not just because it’s Glamour magazine, and it’s a great publication, but also because the position that I had allowed me the opportunity to write, which is what I was looking for. As I was evaluating different jobs, I didn’t just want to be the editorial assistant who just gets the coffee or makes the Xerox copies and all of that. I also wanted to have the opportunity to write.

Once I found out that this was position allowed for that and that I would be responsible for writing a column every month, I thought, “This is great because I’ll get a byline, and I’ll get a chance to start building up my clips and have some examples of my work to show people.” The great thing about Glamour is that they didn’t care if I wrote for the other sections of the magazine. So once I had been there for a couple months, I started pitching other editors of different sections, so I got to write for other sections of the magazine as well. I would say that’s really what helped me the most just because it was a great way to get my feet wet.

A Royal Point of View: You were named Editor-in-Chief of Essence last August. Were you the least bit nervous? Or did you feel that you were ready by then?

Vanessa: I would say it was a little of both. Whenever you go into something new no matter how long you’ve been in the business or watched a number of people in that position – I had a been there for a while and seen a lot of different people in this position and saw how they approached it and how they handled the role – that doesn’t mean that you necessarily know how you’re going to do it yourself. You have a thought in your head of how you would like to run the magazine, but you don’t really know for sure. I felt confident that I had a good understanding of the audience and what kinds of stories we should be telling and what I wanted the magazine to represent, but I didn’t know for example, how often I would be asked to do speaking arrangements.

Once you step into this role, like I said, you really have to be more of a brand ambassador and be out meeting new people and helping people get to know who you are so that they gain a better understanding of what your vision for the magazine is, hat you bring to the table and what you’re trying to accomplish. It really becomes more about seducing if you will and really trying to help people connect with the brand.

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Jill Scott looking fierce and rocking it on the cover of Essence Magazine’s September 2014 issue.

A Royal Point of View: What’s been the most rewarding aspect so far?

Vanessa: Seeing your vision come to life. A few months into becoming editor-in-chief, I realized that it was time for the magazine to have a redesign. And we really had to rethink the look of the magazine from the order of the magazine to the layout. Every new editor wants to come in and put their personal spin on the magazine, but I truly felt that the magazine needed a refresh – not a total overhaul, but just a refresh, a different look and feel. So I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to do that. We worked on it for months. And I know for a fact from the feedback I’ve been getting – people have to been coming up to me in person or sending an email or tweet – that it’s made a difference. The book feels different. And it’s all been really positive.

A Royal Point of View: And the most challenging?

Vanessa: Bringing our print and digital efforts together so they would be seamless.

A Royal Point of View: I’ve noticed that since you’ve been in charge, Essence‘s covers have improved 100 percent. What were some of your goals for the magazine going in?

Vanessa: Improving our social media presence was another big goal of ours. We wanted to reach a million “likes” on Facebook and grow our engagement on Twitter and Instagram. We just wanted to have more of a presence. And I believe that over the past year, we’ve been able to do that. We definitely achieved our goal in terms of Facebook. We’ve made great strides on Twitter and Instagram and social media campaigns from beauty to natural hair to something much more serious like our #HeIsNotASuspect campaign. That came after the Trayvon Martin verdict. And I think more than 20,000 people posted across our social media platforms in support of that particular effort.

We’ve won awards for our work and those efforts, so there’s just so much to be proud of – even the fact that as my first year as editor-in-chief, we were nominated for the American Society of Magazine Editors’ General Excellence award for service and lifestyle magazines. We had never been nominated in that category before. I thought that was a major achievement because it goes back to your mission statement and are you serving and representing that mission well. To me, that signaled that other editors in this industry are noticing that we’ve made some changes and that we’re headed in the right direction. I feel great about this first year and how much we’ve been able to accomplish and the recognition we’ve received. And I credit all that to having a team that really understands our mission.

A Royal Point of View: What advice do you give to those of us who want to be in your shoes someday?

Vanessa: Make sure that you’re building your skill-set on every single level. And I say that because I find that a lot of times people want to achieve a certain level – they want to be an editor-in-chief, but they may not have had completed all of the steps, so there may be some things that they’re totally unprepared for. They may not be prepared to have a conversation about how to balance a budget, they may not know anything about the digital aspect or social media, which they absolutely should, they may not have had any media training, so if they have to appear on camera, they’re really uncomfortable with it.

There are just so many things to learn along the way. And I truly believe that taking the time to learn those skills and not rushing is important because when you finally get to that point – and only you know when you’re truly ready – you’ll be absolutely confident in executing the job and you’ll know that your skill-set is solid. There will be so many other challenges that come your way, so you want to hone those skills as much as you can, so that you can focus your attention on the new things you need to learn when it’s time.

Michelle Obama gracing the cover of Essence Magazine's August 2014 issue.
First Lady Michelle Obama gracing the cover of Essence Magazine’s August 2014 issue.

A Royal Point of View: How do up-and-upcoming journalists find mentors to work with?

Vanessa: That’s so interesting. I attended a conference last week and one of the breakout sessions was about mentoring and sponsors, and what I loved about the advice they were giving was that a lot of times, people will come up to you and say, “I want you to be my mentor.” And it’s not that easy. A mentor relationship is a two-way street. The person who’s asking has to have something to offer the person who they’re asking. Where I think people make a mistake a lot of times in mentor-mentee relationships is that the mentee will think, “Oh, it’s the mentor’s duty to drive the relationship,” when actually it’s the reverse. It’s the mentee’s responsibility to reach out because that person who’s mentoring is really busy, they have a lot going on, and they might not always have the time.

If you’re going to have mentor-mentee relationship, it’s important that the ground rules must be laid out very early on, as well as what the expectations are going in. I think it’s important to get to know each other a little bit better, in order to make sure that it’s the right fit because even though that person might have a job that you aspire to have someday, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their style fits yours. So when you’re seeking out a mentor, you really want to do your homework and think about what this person is like, how they represent their brand, and would they have the right energy and mindset to be a good mentor to you. Also, think about what your responsibly is in the relationship as well.

A Royal Point of View: Thousands of people would jump at the chance to write for Essence. What makes a great pitch? And what sections are open to freelancers?

Vanessa: So if you go to the masthead and look under “Departments,” you’ll see entertainment, health, relationships, and personal finance and career – all those sections use freelance writers. It’s really important that before people pitch something that they study the magazine and not just the last two issues but at least the last six months, even the last year because I cannot tell you how frustrating it is and this happens all the time, when I get pitches for story ideas that we just did. It shows me that you don’t read the magazine. So first, know who you’re pitching and what they’ve already done. People pitch me columns all the time because they just want to write in their own voice, and we don’t do a lot of columns – that’s not something that we do – so why would you pitch something if you haven’t seen it?

For most freelancers, where you fit in is that you pitch a really amazing idea that the magazine has never done before, and you have some kind of expertise in it whether it’s because it’s a beat that you’ve covered regularly or because you have a connection with experts that would be willing to speak on the topic. There has to be something really unique about not just the story idea but also about why you’re the right person to write that story.

A Royal Point of View: Is there anything you wish you would’ve known about when you were just starting out in this business that would’ve make your life a little easier?

Vanessa: I wish I had known how important it is to network and send thank you cards – both are extremely important.

Be sure to follow Essence Magazine on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest. To subscribe, click here. You can find Vanessa on Twitter @Vanessa_KDeLuca and on Instagram @VanMommy.

Summer Beauty Tips From Ciara’s Makeup Artist Yolonda Frederick

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Ciara. Jennifer Hudson. Monica. TLC. Lynn Whitfield. What do all of these beautiful, talented and famous faces have in common? They’ve all experienced the magic of celebrity makeup artist Yolonda Frederick. This makeup maven has become a go-to in the industry for celebrities who want to look flawless, fresh and nothing less. Here, Frederick spills industry secrets, including a detailed “how-to” on attaining Ciara’s signature glow.

A Royal Point of View: What are three essential items we should all be carrying in our makeup bags this summer?

Yolonda Frederick: Evian’s Facial Water Spray, a great sunscreen like SkinCeuticals’ Daily Sun Defense Moisturizing Broad-spectrum Sunscreen SPF 20 and a great tinted hydrating balm like Givenchy’s Hydra Sparkling Magic Lip & Cheek Balm. The bonus is that you get a nice tint for your cheeks too!

A Royal Point of View: Any summer beauty trends we should look out for?

YF: Less is more! For summer, a clean bronzy glow is necessary. Keep your application light and fresh with a tinted moisturizer and a sweep of bronzer for healthy radiant skin punched up with a nice shimmer to the cheek bones. Then add a touch of a fun lip and cheek stain. Bright-colored eyeliners like MAC’s Chromagraphic pencils are in for summer.

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A Royal Point of View: What’s the best way to prevent our makeup from slipping and sliding all over the place when the warm weather and humidity start to roll around?

YF: Go for lighter coverage on your foundation choices. Try a tinted moisturizer like NARS’ Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer with Make Up For Ever’s Full Cover Concealer, which is waterproof. Follow up with a great bronzer like MAC’s Bronzing Powder in “Golden” instead of heavier foundations and powders.

A Royal Point of View: What was your first big break?

YF: I got a call many years ago from LaFace Records to do T-Boz for People Magazine. I was so nervous, but fortunately, she and I connected during this shoot and she started requesting me for all of her local shoots. When TLC released FanMail, she made it possible for me to tour with the entire group! My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since then.

A Royal Point of View: Speaking of TLC, how was it like working with the late Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes?

YF: She was an amazing young lady. Always respectful and easy to work with. Sometimes she would fall asleep while I did her makeup.

A Royal Point of View: Is working with celebrities as glamorous as it seems?

YF: Working with celebrities isn’t as glamorous as it may seem. Sure, I get a bird’s eye view into inner circles and being backstage can be very exciting. However, I also consider my job service-oriented, and it’s always about your clients’ needs and concerns first. I’ve earned the privilege through hard work, experience and continually honing my skills to participate in a process that’s meant to create and maintain a certain image for a celebrity brand. This can create lots of pressure to deliver, so when I come to work, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and dig in instead rubbing elbows with the talent.

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A Royal Point of View: What’s the best and worst part about your job?

YF: The best part of my job as a celebrity makeup artist is that it’s provided me with the opportunity to visit cities all over the world doing what I love the most and that’s making my clients feel beautiful. Ironically, the worst part about my job is the amount of travel required. It can be exhausting to travel for 18 hours to work and then have to arrive on set with fresh energy and be creative.

A Royal Point of View: You have strong ties to a program called, “Face to Face: The National Domestic Violence Project,” where you give makeup training and consulting to domestic violence survivors. Could you tell us more about that and how you became involved?

YF: I was connected through an amazing and gifted doctor Marc E. Yune, who’s a volunteer surgeon, former spokesman and fund-raising chairman for Face to Face. I was given an opportunity to participate in an extreme makeover through Dr. Yune. He invited me along with another friend Dina Giesler, the founder of “Atlanta Smiles Foundation, Inc.,” and we all donated our time and services to a very courageous abuse survivor. It was such an inspiring experience. To be able to add quality to a women’s life by simply making her feel confident about her self-image was truly a defining moment in my life. It validates one’s power to make a difference in someone’s life by a simple act of kindness.

A Royal Point of View: Would you ever be interested in launching your own cosmetics line in the future?

YF: Yes, I’m actually in the process of product development right now. In fact, I recently received my prototype, and it’s extremely fulfilling to finally see my idea come to life. My trade mark has been filed and is still in the application phase, so I have to wait until it has been completely registered to reveal the name, but it’s a very cool mobile makeup compact for girls on the go. It will contain various cosmetics items that can be tailored to appeal to each individual’s needs. My goal is to have it on the market by the beginning of the New Year!

A Royal Point of View: What’s the best beauty advice you ever received?

YF: To nurture your body from the inside. Drink lots of water, eat balanced meals, take care of your skin and exercise. This is just as important as using great beauty products!

To achieve a beautiful and natural-looking glow like Ciara’s, head over to Ebony.com.

For more information about Yolonda Frederick, check out www.IAmYolondaFrederick.com.

Former Essence Editor, Niema Jordan on Moving to NYC In Pursuit of Her Dreams

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It goes without saying that New York City is the place to be if you want to make it in journalism, particularly magazine journalism. Essence, Rolling Stone, Seventeen, Glamour, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, People — you name it and I guarantee you it’s somewhere in New York City a.k.a. The Big Apple a.k.a. The Melting Pot a.k.a. The Empire State a.k.a. The City That Never Sleeps. New York City might be known for its many nicknames, but one thing’s for sure: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Writer/editor/filmmaker Niema Jordan is proof of that.

Since trading in palm trees for yellow taxis and the nearly all-black attire that New Yorkers are notorious for, the Oakland native has contributed to a host of publications, including Essence, Healthy You Now, Spa Magazine and Oakland Local. Currently, Niema serves as a reporter for Richmond Confidential and executive editor for 38th Notes. And did we mention she’s also in the process of earning a dual master’s degree in public health and journalism from the University of California, Berkley School of Public Health? In case you can’t tell, Niema is a go-getter!

Here, the former Essence editor reveals how she was able to break into magazine journalism — an industry many consider to be on its way out.

A Royal Point of View: Back in 2008, you decided to relocate to New York City, in order to pursue a career in magazine journalism. What inspired you to make that move?

Niema: I had just graduated from Northwestern and I was sort of back and forth about it because I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have a place to live. I had a home girl in New York and I was talking to her. She had graduated from my Alma matter about a year before and she said to me, “Well, don’t you wanna live in New York?” I said, “Yeah, but I don’t really have all the things that I need.” And she was like, “Well, I don’t really know how you plan on being a magazine editor in New York unless you move to New York.” And I was like, “Oh, right!” so I just kind of went with it. I took my last paycheck. Her parents agreed to let me stay with them for a few months until I found a job.

My goal was to get in front of as many editors as possible and work whatever kind of job I could get. I had gone to the NABJ convention in Chicago not too long before that, so I made some good contacts and a lot of people said, “If you’re ever in New York, you should stop by my office,” so when I got there, I took all of them up on that during the first week I was there and went into straight hustle mode. It was a very risky decision, but I had a strong network and I had some folks I knew would look out for me no matter what was going on. Ultimately, I knew that if things didn’t pan out, I could just go home and I’d be fine. It wasn’t like, “Oh, if I don’t make it here, it’s the end of my life.” I knew I could just step back and reboot. So much of it has been about my network. That’s really how I was able to survive out there. I had a strong support system.

A Royal Point of View: California and New York are very different from each other. How did you make that transition and was it difficult?

Niema: It wasn’t too bad because I had went to Northwestern for my undergrad, which is in Chicago, so I had already been away from home for a while, so it wasn’t like getting into the New York flow from being in Cali. I’d already been separated from home for a few years. I really love New York and New York is a place where you can find so many people to connect to. There were people I connected to because we went to the same school, there were people I connected because they were from the Bay area, and there were people I connected to simply because we were straight out of college, starving students, so it was really easy for me to find some folks that I connected with once I got out there.

A Royal Point of View: Is there anything you wish you would’ve known prior to moving that would’ve made life easier?

Niema: I would’ve had some money saved up. I think outside of saving money, my advice for people who are moving to New York is do not underestimate your network because honestly, most of the jobs I’ve gotten have come through connections and word of mouth. So if I worked really well with somebody on a project, they referred me to somebody else for another project. Like I said, I’m a member of NABJ, so people have passed my resume around to other folks. Inward networking is very real in New York and it’s very real everywhere. The other thing is be prepared to actually produce and do something dope when somebody in your network recommends you for something because you don’t want to make them look bad.

A Royal Point of View: Looking back, would you do it all over again if you had to?

Niema: Yeah, I think it was very much worth it. I think that sometimes we move to New York because we have something to prove to ourselves. I think that’s why most people move to New York. And some people choose to stay while a lot of people feel like, “OK, I’ve proven that I can make it here and do whatever and now it’s time for me to move somewhere else.”

A Royal Point of View: What would you say was your first big break?

Niema: My first job in New York was working at Essence. I got my job at Essence after about two months of living in New York. I was editorial assistant and I was there for about nine months. Then my dad got sick, so I moved back to California for about a year and a half. I was freelancing for the magazine during that time and then when my dad got better, I moved back to New York. And the person who had replaced me at Essence was actually leaving, so I just fell right back into my same job. And since I had more experience under my belt, instead of getting the title of editorial assistant, I became assistant editor.

A Royal Point of View: Did you have any mentors along the way?

Niema: Oh yeah. Everyone at Essence was really supportive. I guess my go-to was Charreah Jackson, who’s currently the relationships editor there. The person who mentored me and got me through with everything when I first moved to New York is Demetria Lucas, who was the relationships editor. I was working directly under her when I first started. And Sharon Boone, who’s the health editor there, is always amazing and helps me out a lot still even though I’m no longer there.

Outside of that, I’d say Kelley Carter. I met her when I was an undergrad and we had lunch one day and she basically tore my resume to shreds. She was like, “You have potential, but you’re not doing everything you should be doing. You don’t have enough internships, you don’t have enough clips. You’re graduating in a year and if you want to be able to do anything after you graduate, here are the steps you need to take.” And that pushed me in a very real way, which is important, because outside of your professors, there are certain things that people who are currently in the field can tell you that your professors can’t.

A Royal Point of View: You’re actually back in Oakland now. What led you to move back to California?

Niema: For me, my departure from New York was really about having another plan and really wanting to complete my master’s here because I really loved the program at the University of California, Berkley. I could’ve stayed in New York for a little bit longer, but I always planned on coming home. I’m actually home earlier than I thought I would be. I had a lot of other goals besides being in New York, you know?

For me, it’s a great opportunity to get two master’s degree in three years. I think I was really inspired in a lot of ways by my experience at Essence because I was working in the health department and getting all these crazy statistics across my desk about Black women and health, so I really wanted to understand a lot more at the core of those disparities and do research. So yeah, I enjoy it and I’ll be done with everything by the time I’m 30.

A Royal Point of View: As you know, the publishing industry is extremely competitive. What’s the best way to get your foot in the door?

Niema: Writing, writing, writing. I think there are certain times when we’re so focused on getting in the door when we should really be focused on doing the work. I worked at this magazine called Venus Zine and it’s not running anymore, but it was an Indie Rock magazine that focused on women in music. It was not my scene. I didn’t know anything about the majority of artists they covered. It wasn’t one of the magazines I grew up idolizing. It was a small magazine. It was one of those places where I could write 200 words for Essence and my whole family would just spas out and I could write a 1000-word story for Venus Zine and people would be like, “What is that?”

The key, however, was they were letting me write those big stories. It wasn’t so much about getting to the big names as it was about getting my clips. And if I didn’t have those clips from that small publication, Essence wouldn’t have been impressed at all. If you really want to write and you really want to edit, then write and edit if even if it’s not for the big names you grew up idolizing or the editors you stalk on Facebook and Twitter because eventually, you’ll get up to that space of writing for those folks.

A Royal Point of View: What are some of the biggest dos and don’ts in this industry?

Niema: Do write. Do hustle. Don’t compare yourself. Don’t talk shit about other people because the world is very, very small. Don’t only have one project or one thing that you’re working on, so if you have one story you’re working on, you should also be looking for your next story. Things are not stable. I’ve seen people dedicate themselves to a brand and then get laid off. What people don’t understand is that it’s all business. People can love you, you can be great at what you do, but when bottom lines are effective, bottom lines are effective.

Because it’s a business, you can’t get into this brand royalty that will leave you out in the cold. They don’t owe you anything. And I think a lot of people get lost in that and dedicates themselves and their lives to these brands and then if they get let go or the brand changes ownership and they’re going in a new direction and you don’t fit that and you don’t have any money saved up or have any other contacts, you’re effed. Don’t put yourself in that position. Always have a backup.

A Royal Point of View: You’ve worked at a number of newspapers and magazines. Based on your experience, what’s the biggest difference between the two?

Niema: I love magazines. I’m so a print girl, I’m so a magazine girl. I love the time that you have to spend on a project. I guess the biggest thing is how much time you get to spend with your words. Yeah, that’s probably the biggest thing for me. Also, I like not having the pressure of having to stay super current because a magazine’s lead time is three months in advance, so right now, I’m thinking about October, November, December and what stories I’m going to pitch. I’m already at the end of the year instead of having to anticipate what’s going to be hot next week.

A Royal Point of View: How do writers pitch fresh ideas to print when online content is constant? Do you have any brainstorming techniques?

Niema: Read different things. On one hand, the things you see in print aren’t that different from online. It’s just more in-depth. You’re thinking new people, you’re thinking slightly different angles. Even print may have their themed issues. You know that every year, InStyle is going to do the body issue, you know that in October everybody’s going to do a breast cancer story. It’s really about discovering new angles. And you can’t get new ideas if you’re consuming the same things all the time. So sometimes the idea is getting offline and reading something in print that might you inspire you take a different angle. Read things that are not on your beat and you’ll see a new way of thinking. What we write reflects our experiences. Consume differently and you will get different ideas.

A Royal Point of View: How can writers make their pitches stand out?

Niema: Know the publication. Know and be able to articulate why you’re the best person to write the article you’re pitching. Don’t send things at strange hours. No one is going to respond to you if you’re emailing them at 5 o’clock on a Friday. Don’t be afraid to follow up. Don’t be an a-hole. Try to get face to face with people. I know it’s increasingly hard because not everybody has for you to sit down with them and have you pick their brain, but join organizations. Join NABJ, join SPJ. Go to a networking event because an email is one thing, but in-person contact is still so key and important. People are busy, so if you can get in front of somebody and you can talk to them, then do it. If you can join an organization, if you can get somebody to recommend you, do it. Networks are important.

This is the other thing: Give your editors what they ask for and give it to them when they ask for it. The easier you make your editor’s life, the more they will assign you stories. When you miss a deadline, you’re not only messing with their schedule, but you’re making them look bad when they have to go back to the meetings and say where their stories are in the process.

Editors talk to each other. Someone may see something you wrote and say, “What was your experience working with this girl? That story was really good.” And if your editor has to say, “Actually, she didn’t turn in the story on time and I did the largest rewrite I’ve ever had to do in my life,” you not only ruin your chances with your editor, but you also ruin your chances with the editor she talked with. So much about this business is about your reputation. You have to protect your reputation.

A Royal Point of View: For those interested in becoming an editor someday, what makes a great editor?

Niema: I don’t know. I know my favorite editors to work with as a writer. I like editors who give good direction and feedback. When I was an editor, my focus was really about understanding your audience, getting them the information that they need and doing it in a creative way, but that’s the writer’s job as well. It was also about deadlines and being able to work with a team and having certain outside contacts and having relationships with people who would then get you access to something else.

A Royal Point of View: When we were in the process of setting up this interview, you mentioned your journey in the world of journalism is ongoing. Do you feel like you still have some ways to go?

Niema: I still have so far to go. I think that’s why I found it so interesting that you wanted to interview me because I was like, “Oh God, I’m still trying to find my way,” but I understand that it’s good to talk to people who are in different phases of their careers. You know, I get that, but I have not made it at all. I think in terms of my journey, I would still love to get to the point where I’m writing a bunch of magazine features. I still need to get to a point where I have a few documentaries under my belt. There are so many things that I want to do.

I kind of discovered early on that I’m much more of a freelancer. I like working on multiple projects, so I wouldn’t say that my goal is to become Editor-in-Chief of a magazine or anything like that. I would also like to teach journalism because it’s very rare that I see someone that looks like me as a professor, so I would like to be that for somebody. I think I’ve accomplished a lot, but I still have a lot more writing and learning to do. And if I ever got a point where I felt that I’ve done everything I needed to do, then I think it would be time for me to switch careers.

A Royal Point of View: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now, professionally speaking?

Niema: Alright, I’m just going to throw some things out there. So 10 years from now, I’ll have a couple documentaries under my belt and a few cover stories. And I will be splitting my time pretty evenly between Oakland and New York, but I’ll be traveling a lot and working on a lot of interesting projects nationally and abroad.

Be sure to follow Niema on Twitter and check out her website.

Sesi’s Editor-in-Chief, Andréa Butler, On Starting and Growing a Print Magazine in Today’s Digital World

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As a teenager, wordsmith Andréa Butler was (and still is) obsessed with magazines but never felt that any of them catered to the needs and interests of young Black girls such as herself. According to the former high school English teacher, Essence was “too old” and magazines, such as Seventeen and Teen Vogue lacked diversity. Tired of flipping through the pages of magazines she couldn’t relate to, Andréa decided to take matters into her own hands back in 2009 with the launch of Sesi Magazine.

Sesi, which means “sister” in the Sotho language of South Africa, is a quarterly print magazine dedicated to “today’s eclectic Black teenage girl.” It’s a place where Black girls can go to feel celebrated to the absolute fullest. Since its inception, many popular musicians and actors/actresses have graced the cover, including OMG Girlz, Mindless Behavior, Keke Palmer, and now Imani Hakim. Here, Andréa reveals how she was able to successfully launch a print magazine in a technology-driven world.

A Royal Point of View: We keep hearing that journalism is dead, especially print, so I’m curious to know what inspired you to launch your own publication in this day in age?

Andréa: I actually got the idea when I was 17 because I was obsessed with magazines, and I would always look through them and wonder, “Why isn’t there anyone who looks like me on the cover? And why don’t they address issues that I’m going through?” I thought, “Well, if nothing changes by the time I’m out of school, then I’ll start one,” but I kind of went around that and taught high school English for five years [after completing graduate school]. Then I decided I really wanted to do the magazine, so I initially launched it in 2009 while I was still teaching.  Then I got a new job as an editor at LivingSocial.com, so I put the magazine on the back-burner. But I kept getting called back to do the magazine and knew this is really what I wanted to do, so I relaunched it in December 2012 but was still working at LivingSocial.com full time. I didn’t start doing the magazine full time until January 2014.

I decided to do print because our audience is Black teen girls from ages 13-19, generally speaking. A lot of teen girls don’t have access to iPads on a regular basis. Also, magazines are such a different animal than newspapers. Still today, teenagers like to rip out the pages of their favorite ads or rip out a page of a cute guy to hang on their wall. They still do that. You can’t fold up an iPad and sneak it in your locker or stick it under a textbook, which I’m not advising people to do [laughs], but you can’t do that. It’s just a tactile experience that you have to have with a magazine. It’s so different from any other type of media.

KeKe Palmer on the cover of Sesi's spring 2010 issue.

A Royal Point of View: What were some of the steps you went through to ensure the success of Sesi?

Andréa: After college, I went to graduate school. In college, I studied English and in graduate school, I studied magazine journalism. That’s where I learned more about the business of magazines because all I knew was I liked to read them [laughs]. As my master’s project, instead of writing a thesis, I did a business plan for a new magazine and I did it for Sesi. And I did a prototype with it as well. When I started, I was using [a content publishing service] and I just did not like the paper that they use. It didn’t feel right. It felt more like a homemade project, so when I relaunched it, I met with a local printer. I knew it would be more expensive, but I thought, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right!” So I met with the local printer, got to feel the paper and take a tour of the place. And it feels like a real magazine now.

What I did next with the relaunch anyway, was get one of my friends from high school do the layout. She actually got her degree in graphic design and she’s working on her master’s in magazine design. And she does it all on a volunteer basis since our budget is tight. Then I posted ads on ed2010.com and Twitter asking for freelancers. And when I left LivingSocial.com, I asked some of the freelancers if they wanted to come with me, so finding writers wasn’t difficult. As for the celebrities on the cover, I didn’t know what I was doing, so I just said, “You know what? I’m going to email the publicist. What do I have to lose?'” And so, they wrote me back and I was able to get KeKe Palmer on the second issue ever. You just have to take chances and do your research. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also really fun and a lot of trial and error.

A Royal Point of View: What was the biggest obstacle you faced along the way?

Andréa: I would say the biggest obstacle is selling ad space. It’s really difficult. In the beginning, I was trying to sell ads, but nothing was happening for a year and a half. Recently, I just sold two ads — well, technically, three because one is running in two issues, so it’s starting to happen. All the nos are starting to become,”Oh yes!” And I’m having more meetings with potential advertisers. It takes a lot of patience.

A Royal Point of View: Many publications these days come and go. What do you think has been the secret to sticking around for this long?

Andréa: I don’t know. I would say hard work and faith because there are times when I’m like, “I don’t even know how we’re keeping this going” because it’s very hard. There’s also been times when I call my friends and my mom and just cry. I’m like, “I don’t know what I’m doing!” But they’re so encouraging and they tell me, “Andréa, this is what you’re supposed to do.” I pray a lot as well.

A Royal Point of View: Talk to us about why it was so important for you to create a publication that represented and celebrated Black girls.

Andréa: Like I said, when I was younger, I was obsessed with magazines. I subscribed to Seventeen, YM, Teen Vogue and Teen People and it was just the same people on the cover all the time. It’s still like that today. All the teen magazines that are out today — the mainstream ones, their mission statement specifically claims that they’re for all girls, but when you look at the magazine, they are clearly for White girls. That’s who their audience is. I didn’t like that they claimed they’re all inconclusive, when they’re really not.

There’s also Essence for older, Black women and we have BET, TV One, Radio One and all that, but we need a magazine for Black girls as well because they need to see themselves on the cover. They need to see their beauty, hair, fashion sense, music and movies celebrated. We published an article about color complex in our fall issue last year and we also talked about racial profiling — you’re not going to see that in Seventeen. People equate mainstream with White and that’s why our slogan is, “We’re covering the Black girl’s mainstream.”

Mindless Behavior covers Sesi

A Royal Point of View: As of now, Sesi is a print magazine, but it’s sold exclusively online. Do you think you’ll eventually sell it in stores?

Andréa: Even harder than getting ad space is getting into stores. You can’t just go to a store and say, “Hey, sell my magazine.” You have to go through distributors and the distributors have to think you’re worth it. They’re very subjective. I’ve reached out to many distributors and they’ve said to me, “Oh, we don’t think that you’re magazine can make us money right now.” Until I can get into stores, I’m focusing on selling it online. It’s just like any other magazine, where you can order it and have shipped directly to your home. I know its going to take a while, but we are looking into getting into some of the local stores and we’re actually in several school libraries and public libraries already.

A Royal Point of View: What entrepreneurial advice do you have for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Andréa: Do your research — that’s very important. Study your competition, study your market and make sure there is a market out there that isn’t being covered. You want to find a niche because you’ll have so much competition already, so you really want to find something that you’re filling a void for. It’s a lot of trial and error, but definitely read books on starting your own magazine just to give you some type of structure. Build a team. If you can do it all, that’s great, but I’ve found that I’m not that great with the design aspect, so it’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses. And if you have money, that’s great, but if you don’t, you might want to keep your day job for a while.

A Royal Point of View: What tips and pointers would you give up-and-coming journalists who want to thrive in this competitive industry?

Andréa: The whole multimedia convergence thing is really huge now. I’d say learn not only how to write and edit but also how to do video, incorporate Google hangout interviews, learn about social media management and start a blog. Basically, learn about every aspect of your business that you can. And networking is everything. I’m really not the type of person who likes to go to mixers, where I don’t know anyone. That’s not really my thing, but if you go to conventions like the National Association of Black Journalists or the Society of Professional Journalists, you can talk to people in the different sessions and it’s not so forced. Also, network while you’re in college with your friends because they may go off and do the same type of thing you’re trying to do.

A Royal Point of View: For those of us who are interested in contributing to Sesi, what do you look for in a pitch? What excites you?

Andréa: I like pitches where the opening is really attention grabbing. I won’t finish reading something that’s like, “Dear Andréa, I would like to write about blah blah blah…” Just get to the point. Tell me the story that you want to write and really grab my attention. And then go into who would you interview for this story and what’s your angle. Be creative. I don’t like the standard, cover letter-looking pitches. Also, be sure that you’ve actually read an issue before you pitch me something because we get a lot of pitches that are just off-based.

On our website, we have a page that’s just for writer’s guidelines, so you want to make sure that you follow all the directions because if you don’t, I don’t even read it because I’m like, “You don’t even follow directions. How can you follow directions when you write an article?” Lastly, we like to get things at least three months in advance. Right now, we’re working on the back-to-school issue, so our deadline for pitches is June 30.

Drew Sidora covers Sesi

A Royal Point of View: What if the person pitching is just starting out and has little or no writing clips?

Andréa: If they don’t have a lot of writing clips, I understand that. We’ve all been there, but if the pitch is really strong and I talk to you and you seem to have your stuff together, I might ask for you to send a sample of something that you’ve written just to make sure you have our style down because that’s main thing. You’ve got to be able to speak in our voice. If you’re a writer, you’ve got to be able to write in the voice of the publication you’re writing for. You’ve got to be able to adapt. You should also be able to take constructive criticism.

A Royal Point of View: What are some pitching dos and don’ts?

Andréa: Do your research about the publication you’re pitching for. Make sure you know what kind of articles they’re looking for, what kind of departments they have in their magazine or what they cover on their blog. Do make sure that you follow the writer’s guidelines because they’re there for a reason. We took the time to write them out and tell you exactly what we’re looking for, so you don’t have to guess. Do be creative with your pitches, so that we actually feel compelled to read them. Don’t be rude — that’s big a thing. And don’t waste people’s time.

A Royal Point of View: Looking back, what’s been the best part about taking that leap of faith five years ago when you decided to launch Sesi?

Andréa: I said I was going to do this at this 17 years old. I remember that moment. I was sitting on the floor in my bedroom and I had all these magazines spread around me. And I was like, “Why doesn’t anybody look like me? Well, I should just start a magazine!” But I wasn’t actually serious at the time. Like I said, I did avoid it several times by teaching after graduate school for five years. I launched the magazine while I was teaching but put it on the back-burner and said, “Maybe I won’t do it.”

When I started working at LivingSocial.com, I kept feeling the urge to return to the magazine, so I relaunched it while I was still at LivingSocial.com, but I couldn’t dedicate myself to it 100 percent. It was difficult leaving my day job, but I believe it’s going to be worth it because it’s slow growing, but it’s growing and I think that’s the important part. I was not happy just going to work every day and coming home. All I did was get up, go to work, work all day, come home, watch TV, go to bed and do it again. And it wasn’t that exciting. If you’re going to do it, don’t think it’s easy. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone.

A Royal Point of View: Where do you see Sesi 10 years from now?

Andréa: Well, my hope is that Sesi takes off very soon so that in 10 years, we’ll be the largest magazine for Black teen girls around. By then, we would like to publish 10 times a year, have plenty of ads, be in stores and have a full staff writers and editors. We’ll always be in print, but we’ll probably also have a digital option. And we hope to keep inspiring Black girls everywhere and educate people who aren’t Black — they can read it as well and learn about their Black friends. Hopefully, it’ll be bigger and better than it is now and keep going forever. That’s the plan.

A Royal Point of View: Is there anything you wish you would’ve known back then that you know today, professionally speaking?

Andréa: I feel like I learned a lot in graduate school, but you don’t always know what you need to know until you get there. There’s nothing that I feel like was left out necessarily. I think you can only learn a finite amount of information when in you’re in school, which is important because you definitely need the foundation. However, you learn more when you actually get into it and realize all that it takes. And things are always changing. When I was in graduate school in 2003, there was no social media, so as things keep changing, you just have to adapt.

Be sure to follow Sesi Magazine on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. To subscribe, click here.