Welcome to the ultimate hub for expert advice to help you get your big break (+ move up the ladder). This week I’m chit-chatting on The Bottom Rung with…
Climbing the ladder
Then: Amy earned her stripes interning at The Daily Mail in the UK, which eventually led to a writing position. She penned a novel Wife, Interrupted, which inspired an article in UK Grazia magazine and led to her working as a features writer. Next stop, editing Australian Grazia magazine!
Now: Who doesn’t this girl write for? Amy is one busy freelance writer and is also the wellness editor-at-large of The Carousel.
Here are Amy’s top tips for making your mark in the magazine industry…
Never take no for an answer
I interned at The Daily Mail and refused to leave. My editor warned me when I was offered the work experience gig, “It’s only for a week, and we definitely can’t offer anything longer.” I dug my heels in for two years, working most of the time as an errands girl. I was allowed to write captions and, over time, captions became articles, which became a column and suddenly I was a writer…
Don’t take yourself too seriously
In my 20s, I was always so concerned about getting ahead and making a good impression. My career never felt like it was moving fast enough. I wish I’d taken a moment to pause and appreciate the journey. As an intern or assistant, it’s easy to get down, but it’s an amazing rung on the career ladder – you get to be part of a thriving, exciting world of a magazine without all the responsibility.
Find your own voice
I was so keen to impress and prove what a ‘serious’ journalist I was, that I’d try to make my articles sound as intellectual as possible (I typed every word into the thesaurus, looking for the longest, most impressive alternative). When I filed my first article, my editor highlighted every word… then deleted the entire thing. He then gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received: “Write as if you are chatting on the phone to your mum.” In other words, remember your audience. For the past decade I’ve written every article, column, and even my book in this way.
Don’t be too eager
Learn when to step up and learn when to pull back. As an editor you want an intern who is eager, however some days there really is nothing for an intern to do. Don’t continuously tap on your editor’s shoulder, looking for your next task. Just make it clear that, if someone needs you, you’re there.
There is no typical day for an intern
Every day varies and no magazine or newspaper is the same. On some placements you might spend a week sorting through the mail and filing invoices. On another week you might be writing full-length articles and submitting ideas for features meetings, that end up front page. It’s not all glory, but it’s not all drudgery either.
Be realistic but never give up
When I came out of university I set myself a deadline; if I didn’t have a paid job in 18 months I’d think of a Plan B. I knew I couldn’t afford to work for free forever in London, and also it’s good to set a deadline for your own peace of mind. Oddly, I never thought about giving up and always sensed that a job would come in time. I cut it fine though – I got my first pay check in month 13!
Don’t be afraid of what people think
Some people think my memoir, which was published when I was 24, was outrageous, but I genuinely didn’t intend it to be. I was widowed when I was 23 and wrote a book about how I dealt with my grief… by being promiscuous. The first three chapters were serialised in The Daily Mail, then I wrote an article for Grazia magazine titled ‘I used sex as therapy’, which led to them offering me a job as a features writer. Three years later I became editor of Australian Grazia magazine.
Get your foot in the door
Interning is the method I recommend to budding writers. Not only because it gets your foot in the door, but because it gives you invaluable experience of how a magazine or newsroom works. There really is no other way to learn how ideas are formed, and become the end product. You may not feel like you’re contributing much at times, but just sit, look, listen and take it all in.
Interning is a rite of passage
I don’t believe anyone should be expected to work twelve hour days, seven days a week for free, however I believe that interning is a right of passage that has its place. Although you may not be paid a salary, there are a lot of perks to being an intern. Through stints at different fashion magazine, I had a wardrobe and bathroom cabinet full of freebies I’d never be able to afford myself, I was sent away on press trips to luxury hotels and begged for invites to some of the coolest parties. However I do think it’s important that there are restraints on just how long an intern can work in one place without being paid.
Keep your passion alive
Find a way to write for yourself – whether that’s a blog, a book or a journal – so you don’t lose the love. It’s easy to question on the bad days why you’re working for free, while all your friends are being paid in other industries. For me, it was the fantasy that one day I could actually be paid to write all day. How incredible is that? If you can stick it out the end result is worth it.
<The Bottom Rung series is inspired by the release of my debut novel THE INTERN (HarperCollins, out now) and my desire to ‘pay it forward’ with career advice and tips on climbing the ladder. Click here to read more about THE INTERN. Come say hello at Facebook and Twitter– distractions welcome.>