We are bringing you a different type of success story today. Instead of going from a small blog to success beyond the blog, Estelle Erasmus shares her story of years as a successful magazine editor and how she re-emerged with her writing into the world of blogging after being out of the spotlight following the birth of her daughter. Thank you Estelle, for sharing your inspiring and exciting story!
Beyond Your Blog: You are a blogger, but you actually started out as an editor. Can you tell us about that experience?
Estelle Erasmus: I started my career in magazine publishing back in the early 1990s. My first job was as associate beauty editor for Bauer Publishing’s weekly publication, Woman’s World, where I helped direct beauty photo shoots, maintained the beauty supply closet, selected makeover candidates, prepped for photo shoots, hired models, and interviewed beauty experts and authors from Frederic Fekkai to Georgette Mosbacher. I also wrote our “beauty tips” column and all the service beauty features. I learned how to do a good interview and write quickly during my time at the weekly magazine, because I had seven deadlines a week.
After two years, I became Senior Editor at American Woman magazine at GCR Publishing, where I wrote columns, decided on book excerpts, wrote travel, health and beauty features, hired writers and did first line edits for all our features, and helped with cover lines. During that time I also started freelancing for New Body, which was also published by GCR. I wrote features and a beauty column that I took over from THE Bobbi Brown, who had stopped writing for us in order to build her makeup empire. I also started writing for the print magazines, New Woman, Longevity, The Beauty Handbook, Energy Times and Let’s Live.
At American Woman, our readers were mostly single and divorced women. So we started a dating column, where we showcased men who wanted to find love. I built my experience editing and writing for that column into a persona as the “Dating Diva”, and taught relationship courses. I was also tapped to go on television to talk about the stories we were featuring. The magazine had me media trained and I was booked on Ricki Lake, Gordon Elliott, America’s Talking, Fox News, Good Day New York, and Rolanda.
After three years at American Woman, I became editor-in-chief of Woman’s Own. Because it was a small publication (our circulation was about 220,000), I learned the nuts and bolts of running a magazine—all before social media, as we know it. Around this time I started writing for the Internet in its early consumer days: I wrote for music.com, livingfit.com, weightwatchers.com and ivillage.com.
After a year at Woman’s Own, David Pecker, then the CEO at Hachette Filipacchi, hand-picked me to be editorial director of the fitness magazine Body by Jake (with celebrity fitness trainer Jake Steinfeld), which was a launch publication. I later went on to start my own business which specialized on launching publications, including The American Breast Cancer Guide (ABCG) and have even interviewed celebrities including Christie Brinkley, Teri Hatcher, Ivana Trump, and Patricia Heaton.
BYB: You also taught writing at NYU. Can you tell us how you came into that position and what types of courses you taught
EE: I hired writing professor, Susan Shapiro to write an article for me about her Barbie obsession while I was at W.I.T. Women in Touch and we clicked. She suggested that I meet with the person in charge of continuing education at NYU, who at the time was Michael Zam. He hired me as an adjunct professor in the continuing education department. I taught several courses about magazine publishing, including a popular six-week course called “How to Write Health and Beauty for Magazines”.
BYB: When and how did you get into blogging?
EE: After editing the American Breast Cancer Guide I took a foray into medical education (I was an editorial director for a large medical publishing company), mainly because the money was so good. It, however, caused me to put my writing on hold for a time.
I had to reinvent every aspect of my life: socially and then professionally after I had my daughter in 2009, because I opted to stay home and raise her. I was lucky because I already had a track record as a journalist, author and magazine editor, so I was offered a “Mom’s Talk” parenting column in my local Patch, which started around the time she was born. I also became a contributing writer to the now defunct Easy Solutions, a custom A&P store publication, while ghost editing for a publishing company.
I got into blogging in 2012 after my experience being cast as a reader in the inaugural New York City production of the show Listen to Your Mother. I had always put a little of myself into my service journalism pieces, but I had never written a purely personal essay before. I had an experience of watching my daughter dance at a library group when she was told to sit down, and I found myself going through lots of emotions. I expected people to be angry, but her pure joy of dancing captivated and amused them. I say in my piece:
“Had I ever been that way, I wondered. If so, could I be like that again? Could I become as free and unfettered as a child with her whole life ahead of her, ready and willing to be the star of her own production?”
I call my daughter my muse, because she inspired me to get back to what I truly love, writing.
I really enjoyed the people participating in LTYM and found that many of them were blogging. I had never thought that I would want to write for free, but the thought of writing only what I wanted to write was empowering.
My blog is called Musings on Motherhood & Midlife, and my subhead is: A Journalist’s Transformative Journey. In the blog I write about my adventures through motherhood and midlife. I cover parenting, humor, lifestyle, travel, fashion, beauty and social good. Unlike most other midlife writers, my daughter is in Kindergarten, so I definitely have a unique perspective: the wisdom of midlife, coupled with the challenges of early motherhood.
At first I used my blog as a receptacle for the non-local parts of my columns from Patch, which I had gotten permission to do. But then I began writing my stories. My first year of blogging, I was named a BlogHer Voice of the Year Honoree for an advocacy piece I wrote while I was on the board of the national nonprofit Mothers & More called, We Changed the Conversation. I was honored again this year for my advocacy essay, Make Little Girls’ Voices Carry, which was also featured on The Broad Side.
BYB: If you could give two or three writing tips to bloggers, what would they be?
#1 Make a Passion Play – Pick a subject that you are passionate about. I wrote Why Yahoo Just Became Obsolete that was syndicated on BlogHer when I read one Saturday night what Marissa Mayer the then new CEO of Yahoo had wrought by refusing to allow employees to work remotely. I wrote the piece in a haze of red fire, submitted it for syndication, and received a response the next morning that they were running it that night. It was the most popular feature and most commented feature on the site for about a week, and made the evening news nationwide. I also wrote a passionate response to a Wall Street Journal article disparaging mommy bloggers, called The Revenge of the Mommy Bloggers, and I was proud when Working Mother selected it to run on their site.
#2 Cut to the Chase – One tip that I’m finding really helps me is to take a piece of writing and cut it down even further to get to the meat of the writing. If you are having trouble with a piece, bring it down to 800 even 500 words. People have very short attention spans these days so it helps to get right to the point. And it’s true that you have to kill your darlings. Sometimes, the lines I wrote are my favorite but they need to be sacrificed to make the piece better.
#3 Give It a Rest – I’d also say, give your essays time to breathe, if you aren’t crunched for time. I have some very heavy pieces that I’ve been working on. One I started in the summer, and I needed to put it away. In the interim, I’ve transformed the piece even more and I think it’s so much better.
BYB: How did your experience as an editor impact your blogging?
EE: Well, I’m pretty good at editing myself, and because I cut my teeth at a weekly magazine, I’m a fairly fast blogger. I know what is important in a lead and can put a personal spin on a sponsored post. I also love alliteration so I can write a great title, sub-head or cover line. In fact, very few of my titles are ever changed when I guest post. As a journalist, I also learned the importance of fact-checking, so before I post I check out even the tiniest detail.
BYB: You’ve gone Beyond Your Blog in multiple ways. Can you expand on some of these?
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EE: Anthologies: I’ve been in four anthologies so far. I was in anthologies before it was popular to be in anthologies, and before social media. My first anthology was The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing: A Professional Guide to the Business, for Nonfiction Writers of All Experience Levels (St. Martin’s Press). I wrote about how to find experts. I was an active member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and I was asked to contribute. I also loved being in What Do Mothers Need? Motherhood Activists and Scholars Speak Out on Maternal Empowerment for the 21st Century (Demeter Press), because it came out of a white paper and subsequent talk I did at the Motherhood Institute for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) when I was on the board of directors for Mothers & More (of which I’m past board president). Recently, I was in the new collection of essays from The HerStories Project, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends.That was a treat because I got to write a love letter to my best friend Laura, who I reconnected with when I was pregnant with my daughter after fourteen years apart.
Conference Speaking: I love public speaking. I have spoken at ASJA meetings. I also spoke about launching a publication at The Folio publishing conference, at B.I.G. in Summit, at MIRCI, and most recently I spoke about anthologies –Getting Published in a Crowded Marketplace at iRetreat14.
The Huffington Post: I tried to get into the Huffington Post for two years, and never heard a peep back from them. Then, Alexandra Rosas wrote a wonderful piece about how she got published. She recommended putting your bio, headshot and article together in one piece. So I did that and submitted a timely piece about my dad right in time for Father’s Day. I was accepted as a blogger contributor that very day. It was a real celebratory moment. Although the Huffington Post doesn’t pay, it is a huge blogging feather in your cap.
BYB: You’ve done so much in the world of writing/blogging/editing. What’s next on your agenda?
EE: I’m a goal-oriented person, and lately it’s been an exciting time for me. I’m a newly reinstated member of the prestigious American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) and I’m reconnecting with people from my old world and connecting with some new colleagues with some exciting projects in the works.
I’ve published a non-fiction book, and have contributed to several anthologies so a novel is a new venue for me. This month I’m participating in NaNoWriMo-short for National Novel Writing Month, so I hope to achieve that goal. I would also love to have an essay in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book.
I was recently accepted to be a contributor to What the Flicka, and I’m excited to see my work syndicated there. I want to continue to publish my essays in highly credible publications (a recent publication was Marie Claire). Another goal is the New York Times Motherlode, Modern Love or Lives columns.
I’d like to continue doing Google+ Hangout interviews with authors, editors and publishers such as my recent one with Lisa Nolan for her anthology Motherhood Causes Drowsiness Funny Stories by Sleepy Moms. My next one is scheduled with Dr. G (Deborah Gilboa), for her new book, Get the Behavior You Want… Without Being the Parent You Hate!: Dr. G’s Guide to Effective Parenting (Demos Health). I was proud that she asked me to write an inside-cover blurb for her book.
I’d also like to continue to build my community of writers and bloggers and friends. I’ve been called a connector, and I like that description.
Doing an anthology (as editor) with some of some of the fantastic writers and bloggers I’ve met is also a goal for me.
Estelle Erasmus is an award-winning journalist, author, and former magazine editor who has been published in hundreds of publications, including Marie Claire, Working Mother, Mamapedia, Vegetarian Times, Project Eve, The Broad Side, National Geographic Traveler, Weightwatchers.com, and Kveller.
She is a contributor to the Huffington Post, What the Flicka and Examiner.com, and writes about family, travel, beauty, fashion, relationships and her transformative journey raising a young daughter in midlife on her blog Musings on Motherhood & Midlife.
Estelle is co-author of Beautiful Skin : Every Woman’s Guide To Looking Her Best At Any Age (Adams Media), and has contributed to several anthologies, most recently My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends. She is a 2014 National Geographic Kids Insider, a 2014 Disney Social Media Mom, a BlogHer Voice of the Year (2014 and 2012), and a Circle of Moms winner (8th place) for Best Family Blog by a Mom. Estelle has spoken about publishing at B.I.G., iRetreat14, ASJA and the Folio Conference. A past president of the Board of Directors of Mothers & More, Estelle is a member of Mother & More’s advisory council and was recently invited to join the board of Bloganthropy. She was a reader of her original essay “And She Danced” at the inaugural 2012 production of Listen to Your Mother in New York City.