Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spotlight Interview: Dave Herndon/Part 2

Dave Herndon, Editor/Writer

Whether he’s writing or editing, Dave Herndon is all about passion and exotic adventure—which makes him the perfect fit for his current position as Editor in Chief of Caribbean Travel & Life.

In an incredibly rich, varied career, he’s been a Features Editor/Writer/Critic for the New York daily newspaper Newsday; Managing Editor for The Village Voice; Senior Editor for Travel & Leisure; Features Editor for Sports Afield; Contributing Editor for Martha Stewart Living, as well as, I must add, one of the most important people in my writing life.

When he was the Sports Editor of the Voice in the mid 1980’s, he gave me the enormous break of my own column, Mike Geffner’s Rundown, which I wrote for the next 12 years. But, just as importantly, he taught me how to be a better writer. I will forever be indebted to him for that.

The following is second and last part of my exclusive newsletter interview with Dave:

Mike: What advice can you offer about query letters?

Herndon: The biggest mistake with query letters is being off-mark. Either the writer hasn't read the magazine, or is way under-qualified to do what he or she is proposing. Some, however, are too good to simply reject, but not good enough to simply accept. The good thing about that is, it makes you want to work with the person, even if that particular pitch is a no-go.

What editors are looking for most are voice, authority, flexibility, professionalism, originality, newsworthiness, and a demonstrable ability to accomplish the agenda. Read several issues of the publication, try to get a chance to talk to someone on staff about what they're looking for. Aim low on the masthead unless you're very well established. They'll usually have more time and take more of an interest.

As for which way to pitch, by email or snail mail, these days email is best. And don’t go crazy if you don’t hear back right away. Sometimes, especially with certain publications, you have to endure a tortuously long waiting period. Other times, the sad fact is, your query letter might never even get read, but sits there in a pile by the editor’s desk. What can I tell you? Deal with it. Go to the gym, meditate, play music, read—in other words, do all the things editors don't have time to do while they're ignoring you. The thing is, freelancing is a quality-of-life choice, so you better enjoy the independence and freedom, because it's a harsh way to make a living. Or just get on with your next query/project, whatever. And don't worry about multiple simultaneous pitching—that taboo is old school manners sadly passé. If you want to cut through, try using a personal appeal to someone on the staff, or contacts.

Mike: What should the relationship between writer and editor be at its best?

Herndon: Brothers/sisters in arms, risk-takers who support one another by pushing forward and pulling back as needed.

Mike: What are editors looking for from writers?

Herndon: Ideas, access, can-do professionalism, copy that doesn't suck, good leads on stories, good organization, attention to detail and the big picture—art, timing, trends, the competition, etc.

Magazine editors, in particular, have to think in terms of metastasizing content across multiple platforms and wholeheartedly embrace the concept of branding. They need to defend their brand's very existence every day, not just on the rhythm of their precious little magazine's production cycle.

Mike: How do print magazine editors view online clips and/or self-published book authors?

Herndon: If they're smart, they'll read that stuff to get a true idea of the person's talent. Published clips are misleading because they've often been heavily edited.

Mike: Ok, give me the lowdown: What does a magazine editor-in-chief really do?

Herndon: Decide what should be in their publication and try to get it done the best it can be done (under the circumstances, of course).

Mike: Any final piece of advice?

Herndon: Just stay hyperactive, brand yourself on social media, surf this changing tide—and good luck. Sorry to say, writers now need to offer value-added content (like web extras) that they might not get paid for.

I would also advise this: Get a Plan B (not that I do).

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