In this article, contributor and friend to BYB, Amy Paturel, interviews her editor at Good Housekeeping, Carla Levy.
Q: Many writers reading this interview will be familiar with Good Housekeeping, but tell us a little bit about the publication and your background there.
A: I think people view Good Housekeeping as an old-fashioned magazine that’s stuck in another generation. I recommend people pick it up and give it a read because I think they’ll be surprised. I came on board from Condé Nast a little over two years ago and I would put our content, our photography and the job we’re doing up against the best in the industry.
At GH, we obviously talk about the home with stories on things like organizing, cooking, decorating and de-cluttering. Those are some of our most popular pages and they always will be. In fact, one of the things that’s really special about our brand is the Good Housekeeping Institute (you may be familiar with the Good Housekeeping “Seal of Approval”). We have an entire team of engineers and scientists who test everything that appears in the magazine. It’s like having a little FDA upstairs. So, the practical aspects of the magazine have that kind of rigor behind it, which gives our readers a lot of trust in what we say.
But in terms of the kinds of stories I handle—features and essays—it’s all about connecting to the heart of the reader. That gives us a broad platform to address a lot of topics.Submit your features and essays to Good Housekeeping! Click To Tweet
Q: What are some topic areas you’d like to see more of?
A: Right now I’m on the hunt for heart-warming, uplifting dramatic stories—how a family came together in a beautiful way; how a community came together to help one of its members in need; an exciting rescue story. One standout example from last summer was Peg Rosen’s “I Was Afraid of Dying But I Had to Save Them.” It was an unusual story for me but if I could ever replicate it, I would jump all over it. It had this dramatic story but it also segued into the science of bravery and the after-effects of living through a harrowing experience. We have reader panels that look at all of our issues and tell us what they love and they loved this story.
So I would encourage people to look in their communities for everyday uplifting dramas, small town heroes and stories that can shine with a national platform. I’m also willing to handle tough topics—things like domestic violence, suicide and sexual assault—but there has to be some element of hope at the end.
Q: What should readers keep in mind as they craft essay submissions? Any examples of stellar essays you’ve run in the past?
A: With essays, I look for connection at the level of the heart. Our readers are primarily moms ages 30-50. Emotion is the constant connector in that wide of an age range. So naturally, stories about children really resonate. Your essay in the August 2016 issue, “The Neighbor I Barely Knew Saved My Son’s Life,” was a perfect example. It was dramatic. There was tension to it. And while it covered a situation that was specific to your family, it also addressed a global issue: Why aren’t we all connecting more with our neighbors? It was one of the highest-rated stories in the whole magazine that month.
I ran another essay in the October issue by Hallie Levine titled “Don’t Act Like My Child’s Daughter’s Down Syndrome is a Tragedy,” and readers loved it. Again, even though Hallie was dealing with something specific to her daughter, she’s facing struggles that are relatable to everyone. I was enlightened reading it; it made me think anew about some issues; and I felt like I was in there with her.
I’m also hunting for great essays about love. I never see anything on love… ever! Keep in mind, too, that I have to keep a deep inventory so I can select an essay that works with the other topics we’re covering in the issue. For example, the essay I’m running in February is about a woman who is deciding what to do with her parents’ ashes. I wouldn’t run that piece at the same time as my colleague is running a piece on depression. So it really depends on what else is going on in the issue.The topic Good Housekeeping wants to see more of in their submission pool! Click To Tweet
I’m always looking for new writers. I’m always looking for good stories. And I love hearing from people. Just try to keep the word count for essays under 1,300 words.
Q: Any topics writers should avoid?
A: I have an inventory of very moving essays about losing a parent. We have one coming out in February. My colleague is doing a reported story in March. And I have at least three more essays in the can that deal with losing a dad and they’re all really beautiful. So death might be a topic to avoid. I still want to see stories that are really special but it’s going to have to be amazing for me to purchase something now.
It’s also important for writers to understand our target audience. I once received a great essay pitch about how a writer’s $600,000 home renovation impacted her marriage. That dollar figure just isn’t relatable to our readers.
Q: Do you prefer to receive pitches with a few paragraphs detailing what the essay will be about? Or complete stories?
A: Most people send me the completed essay. I don’t want to ask writers to work without getting paid, but if you really want someone to consider your writing, you have to work “on spec” for essays (meaning you have to pitch the story in its entirety). If it’s a writer I know, or someone who has a bunch of national clips, I may accept a pitch rather than the full piece. So, if you’re pitching me, the best approach is to send the full essay via email: Carlalevy (at) hearst (dot) com
A basic mistake people make with their submissions is not putting their contact info on their attached work, only in their email. I often save an attachment to read later and if it doesn’t have contact information, it can be hard to track it back. Our email incinerator here is aggressive and I’d hate to forget to cut/paste onto someone’s work and then not know who sent me something.
Q: As far as rights go, does Good Housekeeping seek all rights?
A: Hearst offers a standard “all rights” contract. Negotiation is rare. We’ve also recently implemented a system where writers sign a contract that stays in effect for two years.
Q: What payment can authors expect if their piece is accepted?
A: I’m proud to say that Good Housekeeping offers a very fair rate. I never assign anything at less than $1.50/word.
Q: What can writers expect during the editing process? Is there a lot of back and forth and rewriting involved?
A: I don’t have a lot of back and forth partly because I don’t have time for it, so I try to get everything I need from a writer in one round. The biggest problem I see in essays is lack of emotion. They’re either matter of fact or preachy. That’s why it’s always best if I can see the full piece. With features, I try to front-load the direction to minimize extensive revisions, and usually have a check-in with the writer after they’ve done their initial research so we can adjust the direction if needed.
Q: Will you accept essays that require a pen name?
A: It depends on the topic. If it’s something very personal and painful, yes.
Q: Once we hit ‘submit’ how long should we plan to bite our nails until we hear back?
A: When someone sends me a submission, I try to pop them an email right away and say, “Thanks, I’ll take a look at this,” so they know it was received. Then, I read every submission. I don’t always get to it as quickly as I want, but if I see something in a subject line that really grabs me, or if it’s a really special topic or an interesting angle, I will look at that right away.
Q: And when should we follow up if we don’t hear back?
A: About a week. Sometimes I get lost in the stuff I have to review, so I don’t mind getting a little nudge.
Q: Any parting notes?
A: We’re beginning to see a lot of merging between brands. Condé Nast, for example, is moving much of their staffs together. Come January, Good Housekeeping will head up a lifestyle group that’s going to incorporate Woman’s Day and Redbook. Where it will affect me is if I have an essay that I can’t use. If the writer is interested in seeing it somewhere else, I may offer it to Woman’s Day. So it’s important for writers to develop relationships with editors, wherever they can. Find someone that’s simpatico with you because she may have avenues outside of her own brand.