Thursday, August 2, 2012

Talking Body and Soul with Gemma

  Ask anyone in Australia if they read the weekend paper and I bet they say to you "Uh... 

well, I always read Body and Soul...does that count?" That answer is because of Gemma 

Sutherland - editor extraordinaire. This week she talks to the Scout about what it takes to 

create one of the most popular insert magazines in the country and ask her for advice for

 other writer's trying to get work in the news and magazine world.

(This one's really great for all my writing students. Soak it up!)

 Photo care of Body +Soul

 How did you end up with the Body + Soul gig?

Well, I started my first job when I was in Uni, I got offered a job a day a week just doing copywriting for a local paper. So I took that, and then I filled in any vacancies they had and eventually I got offered a full time job. By the end of Uni I was working full time and studying full time. From there I met a contact who offered me the job of sports editor of a local paper. I took that job as well. I kind of got lucky after that, I got a job offer in London and moved there. I had a weeks trial and happened to nail it,  so I worked there on the tabloids for a couple of years. And through the contacts I made there I got another offer back in Australia. I got a job here editing one of the Telegraph's insert magazines and when they relaunched another one  of the magazines I was responsible for that. I guess I got a reputation for relaunching so when Body+Soul needed a relaunch and re-energise, I was asked to take it on, and that's how I ended up there.

What does your job entail?

Ooh, a lot of political land-mine avoiding! Ha. I commission work. I decide what's going to go in the magazine. So I get a flat plan every week with the ads in place and I decide what will go where, what the content will be, what the cover will be. Then I make sure we've got everything that we need. My art director chooses the pictures and then she gives me a few choices and I pick the ones that I think choose the page the best. I make sure the headlines are right. I make sure the copy has the right flavour to it. Yeah - there is a lot of juggling of different things and often when I think things are going smoothly, something will go completely wrong and then there is a lot of managing to be done. There is a lot of advertising and marketing issues I deal with as well. It's all part of the job.

What sort of deadlines do you face?

We are a national magazine so we have a unique situation. In a week we shoot three issues off. On Fridays, its our absolute deadline when I send them off to print. This means there are deadlines every day. Our book size is 32 pages and we only have four full time staff so we need to stay right on the ball all the time. 

How do you choose your freelancers?

I hire people who pitch well to me. A very specific pitch with a suggested headline, an introduction and then a really specific outline as to what the story will be. We, being a health magazine, have to run the same content over and over again, so we need to find a new twist on it. I will hire people who know the product well, know what we need, are creative and have really good ideas and know how to sell me the story succinctly. And of course, people who are easy to work with: they file their invoices on time, their copy is on time, it doesn't need a lot of work, and they have gone to an effort to give me interesting information. If I have to go back to them and say, "Look its not quite right, can you fix this?", then I'm less likely to work with them in the future.

What sort of pitches do you ignore?

I ignore pitches that are a bit vague, or if they are too informal or don't hook me right away. And if its really quite long and waffly, then I just don't have time to read it. I need to be hooked within the first two lines or so. I generally get about twenty pitches a day, probably close to one hundred a week. I have to ignore those that just don't suit. And I pick the specific ones that suit the magazine.

How do you manage the freelancers you hire?

If I like a pitch I'll write back to the writer and ask them and ask them to flesh it out a bit more or just say " I love your pitch, can I have 800 works and can you include breakouts and I need by... whatever the deadline is." I usually give people two or three weeks to write a story. I have great people on board who can turn stories around quickly. We pay about 65 cents a word depending on the story, some stories take more work so they may get a package. We often need an online story as well so our online editor will often commission an extension article as well.

What do you love about your job?

I feel really lucky to have my job. I love editing magazines and I think things will be much easier to do if you love your job. I have a passion for it. I do have many things that frustrate me, but I love getting a raw product - a piece of paper - and filling it so that at the end of the week we have a magazine that is hopefully very informative and entertaining and well followed. People really love Body+Soul as a brand and we get a lot of feedback. People look to us to improve their lives and its a privilege to work in something that makes people's lives better.

Follow the Body+Soul team blogs here:

What about you, what do you love to read?

I love writers that make me forget where I am and take me somewhere else. I love J.K. Rowling - I love Harry Potter, it transported me. I tend to read a lot of autobiographies but I also enjoy chic-lit books. If I writer uses their words well and takes me to another place for a while, I love that.

What is the next step for you as writer and editor?

I think probably a foray into the online world. Probably still involved with the magazines in newspapers. Something digital, but I'm not sure what yet...

What is your advice for writers trying to get into the newspaper and magazine world?

Do work experience. Its a very hard field to get into and its hard to just finish Uni and apply for a job these days. We need people who have experience. I wouldn't hire someone who was applying fresh off the boat because I don't have time to train them. So someone who has done work experience who can prove that they are determined and keen and willing to work as hard as they can. And those who have earned some good referees and contacts, that's they sort of person that we look to hire. In my class - sports journalism - I was the only one who got a full time journalism job and I think that was because I was doing so much work experience. In the general journalism course, which had a lot more students, there was only two or three of them that got jobs. Its a very hard field to get into, but if you get your foot in the door with some work experience, you're on the right track. It's very rewarding for me, so I think its worth it.

Thanks Gemma, we love Body+Soul and your advice is priceless.
 - the Scout

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