Gay Talese’s Basement
|The Experts Speak
...between kickball and homework
If you want to succeed as a magazine writer, you could learn a lot from a surprising source. NYRM rounded up some seasoned editors to give you the lowdown on making effective story pitches and getting editors’ attention. These experts, editors at New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and their Dreams, took time out to offer their advice, in between being picked up at middle school by their moms and watching the WB network.
New Moon is a magazine edited by girls of middle school age. Its founder and publisher, Nancy Gruver, developed it 13 years ago as a way of helping her then 11-year-old twin daughters make the transition from girls to women while maintaining “the girl within.” The mission of the magazine, which is free of advertisements and heavy on multicultural themes, is to give girls eight to 14 years of age a place where they can read less about fashion and more about political and world issues. “We feel it’s important to carve out a special place for girls to know their voices are going to be listened to and valued,” says Lacey Louwagie, 25, New Moon’s assistant managing editor.
Based in Duluth, Minn., New Moon maintains a 15-member Girls Editorial Board. Its members, along with collaborating adult editors, develop stories and themes, and the girls conduct interviews, and edit the pieces that appear in the magazine.
They may be young, but they know their stuff. One of the editors, Amanda Shoberg, 14, says the best thing to keep in mind when pitching a story idea is: “Don’t pitch unless you really, really have a strong idea. Do not give your editor an ‘Eh’ idea, because if you do, it shows—and worse, if it becomes a story, it’s not usually that good.”
Another editor suggests a more collaborative approach to pitching an idea. “Brainstorm with colleagues as a group,” says 14-year-old Claire Dougan. “People can build off each other, and before you know it, you have five story ideas from that original thought.” Watch out for Claire. She is currently working on three books.
Sonja Peterson, 13, says the key to getting an editor’s attention is: “Give your editor a solid, specific idea. Don’t submit a spacey idea, like, ‘I want to do a story on First Ladies.’ ” She continues, “Then the editor’s going to ask, ‘Are you talking about one First Lady or all of them?’ You’ve got to decide on one idea before you approach your editor.” Peterson wrote two articles for New Moon before joining the Girls Editorial Board.
Sage Kohnstamm, 11, one of the youngest editors on staff, has some advice on writing effectively. “When writing a story, try to put your feet in the readers’ perspective, to try and make your writing more fun,” she says. “Make people want to read your article rather than feel they have to.”
Finally, two of the girls have a few words of wisdom for all the editors out there. “I want to see more diversity in magazines,” said Sonja. “If you rip off the covers of five girls’ glossy magazines, you cannot tell them apart. They are so focused on fashion, which is fine, but we’re not all about that.” Amanda Shoberg adds: “I would like to see less airbrushed pictures in magazines. “We don’t all have perfect skin, perfect hair and perfect teeth. I want pictures of real people!”
Today, these young journalists manage to squeeze in the editing of a nationwide magazine between running for student council and going to school dances. In a few years, you may be seeing their names in magazine mastheads and bylines.
Illustrations by Liza Ferneyhough