Saturday, December 12, 2009

Spotlight Interview from the Archives: Susan Pocharski

Susan Pocharski, Magazine Editor

Ladies’ Home Journal Entertainment Director Susan Pocharski has been one of the top women editors in the magazine industry for last two decades. I can also tell you from firsthand experience, having her as my personal editor at the now-defunct Maximum Golf, she’s one of the most gifted ones I’ve ever worked with.

In her career, she’s been the Executive Editor at Teen People, US, and George (another long-defunct mag); a Senior Editor at People; and the Articles Editor at LIFE. As a writer, her cover stories have been featured on Entertainment Tonight and Extra, among other news magazine shows.

The following is my exclusive interview with Susan.

Mike: What do you think is the most common misconception writers have about editors?

Pocharski: That the editor knows exactly where they want a story to go. In my experience, editors sometimes look to their writers to take the story in an unexpected—and welcomed—direction. They story is improved because the writer took the story further than its original conception.

Mike: What’s the best advice you can give inexperienced writers trying to break through, either as a freelancer or staffer?

Pocharski: Wow, that's a tough one, actually, but I think the big thing is to take chances. To write A LOT, to write about different things: so you don't lock yourself in as a “travel writer” or “celebrity profiler” or whatever. That you work on being a versatile writer. Also, that you look for the unexpected stories. Find stories to pitch that your editor couldn't possibly say “no” to. Dig deep in terms of story ideas. That's the key.

Mike: What’s the best way to query and what makes a great query letter?

Pocharski: Email is best. Snail mail gets buried. In terms of what makes a great pitch: see my response above....if you’re pitching a personality profile, pitch a story that has NEVER BEEN DONE on that person. Bottomline, your pitch HAS TO BRING SOMETHING NEW TO THE TABLE.

To be honest, though, I never once assigned a story off of a pitch letter. Scary, huh?

Mike: Tell your most entertaining (and if you can, illustrative) story about being an editor

Pocharski: I changed one word of a famous writer’s essay without telling her (by mistake, of course) and she went ballistic on me. Lesson learned: always run final copy by your writer.

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

Pocharski: Collaborative. An editor who respects the writer's talent combined with a writer who respects the editor's talent.

Mike: What’s the best way for a novice writer to approach an editor, get his/her attention?

Pocharski: Again, bring them an idea they can't turn down. And, of course, being a lively, smart, thorough writer.

Mike: What are editors looking for from writers?

Pocharski: Voice. A unique voice and a strong storyteller.

Mike: How do you define great writing?

Pocharski: Something you don't want to stop reading.

Mike: What does an editor do?

Pocharski: Guide a piece and the writer.

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