Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fibro Q&A: So you want to be a fashion/beauty writer?

Paula Joye has dedicated the last 20 years of her life to beauty, fashion and style. When I met her in the early days of my fulltime features-writing career, she was the deputy editor of CLEO, a gorgeous (still is, see left), bubbly blonde with endless reserves of encouragement (for people like me) and unlimited potential (for her). She pretty much fulfilled all that potential in magazines, as editor of CLEO, Shop Til You Drop and Madison - and editor-in-chief of all three - and has now moved on to seeing where it will take her online (I'm thinking far) with Life.Styled., which she describes as a 'depot for beautiful things'.

With a solid-gold background in beauty and fashion editing in her portfolio, I could think of no better person to ask about beauty and fashion writing. It's a very specific niche in the publishing world (both print and online) and it calls for a particular set of skills. Not least of which is being able to write down, off the top of your head, at least a dozen different alternatives for each of these words: hair, skin, eyes, fragrance. Trust me, it's not as easy as it looks...

What are the three main skills you need to be a good fashion or beauty writer?
PJ: "1. You must love it, otherwise it will melt your brain. The way to find true satisfaction when specialising in any subject is passion - if you kinda like shoes or sorta think mascara is awesome, it's never going to be for you.

"2. Have an opinion. This separates the wheat from the chaff. The best beauty and fashion writers have a point of view that is engaging, 360  and often humorous or self-deprecating. It's not rocket science and shouldn't be written as such.

"3. Luck. Right place. Right time."

I think it's an area of writing that people think is easy - but anyone who's tried to write a hair story and come up with 33 different ways to say 'hair' (without repeating yourself) knows differently. What are the keys to getting it right?
PJ: "Finding 33 different words for hair! Creativity is key and the big one is to avoid cliches. It is an area riddled with them - find a new angle, throw the net wider, and don't say stuff like 'sun, sand and salt water can wreak havoc on your locks'. Just don't."

Of course, there's more to it than just the writing. Fashion and beauty editors spend a lot of time away from their desks, viewing collections, attending product launches, etc. Is relationship-building a vital tool in the fashion or beauty writer's arsenal?
PJ: "One hundred per cent. It's your mainline to experts, new information, inspiration - it's the front line. The industry is about contacts and runs on the board - a big part of that is the network you create."

How do I break into this area if it's something I'm passionate about?
PJ: "You can do it. Make sure you really want it (because it's hard) and then dig your heels in. Work experience is essential. Try to get an internship within a magazine, newspaper or television fashion or beauty department. Start a blog or website as an outlet for your writing - and to become your CV."

Would you agree then that any potential fashion/beauty writer/editor needs a blog? What do you think are the key ingredients of a standout fashion/beauty blog?
PJ: "You should only create a blog if you're passionate about it - no matter what the subject matter. Yes, it's a great way to express your creative point of view and self-publish, but it's also a beast that needs to be fed. Daily.

"Find your sticky point - and for everyone that will be different. The key to success is recognising the 'thing' that people are visiting your blog for, and capitalising on it.

"A wise editor once said (and man, it's true), 'Should we give the readers more of what they want? Or less?'

"It's actually that simple."

Visit Paula at lifestyled.com.au for everything you ever wanted to know about fashion, beauty, home, heart... and fun.

10 comments:

  1. Paula, your recommendation of the St. Tropez Instant Glow stuff - very timely - thank you - I read about it earlier in the week and here you are! (I bought the stuff to even out my disgraceful tan lines...)

    Bodies and blogs - both beasts that needs to be fed. Daily. Totally agree!

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  2. Paula, I've had a secret girl-crush on you for too many years ... sad, I know, but true.
    There is so much that young fashion and beauty writers can learn from your words of wisdom plus from just watching you in action.

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  3. Wow, this would be amazing. My best friend has worked with Paula & she's certainly a dynamo.
    I love that she says to have an opinion, that takes guts in such a fast moving, blink & you miss the trend industry where you have to predict the fashion in advance, as it has to go to print, it's not instant in magazines, like blogs are now!!
    Neat interview. Just one for those of us who aren't readers (like me, i'm a scientist) i don't mind if you say "hair" 33 times in one article, makes it easy to read, i don't need creativity with locks/ lochs (see i don't even know which one to use when referring to hair), love Posie

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  4. Have been a long time fan of Paula's work - thanks for sharing!

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  5. Great info.... Thanks for sharing.

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  6. There's one other thing that I think a good fashion writer needs: a distinctive voice. I've always loved Paula's humour and intelligence in her writing. It's always readable and interesting (which is saying something when you are talking about me and beauty products!). For instance, I like Paula's 'beast that needs to be fed' analogy! Nice one!

    Great interview.

    x

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  7. Great interview - thanks for sharing it with us all. It's not the field I'm interested in (my daily beauty routine includes sunscreen and... that's it), but there's a lot here that you can take and apply whatever your field.

    Thanks to both Allison and Paula for the time.

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  8. These Q&A sessions make me realise how cool Al is. She knows all the famous people! I don't know much about beauty or fashion but Paula makes both interesting and accessible. That is a gift Paula! Thanks for sharing your expertise x

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  9. Here's my question: ARE there 33 different words for hair and what are they? I only know hair, locks and tresses.
    I have never ever wanted to be a fashion writer, I'd be more likely to be the anti-fashion writer, with scathing articles about the disasters we see on the streets.

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