On the snark thing, do you think that that’s kind of…your fault?
Yeah, totally! Totally!
Because one of the first places I ever saw that was in Sassy. But I remember when Sassy did it, it was thrilling. No one else was doing anything besides totally fawning over celebrities in this really boring, fake way, I remember seeing you guys do something—it was just something small, like you were just making fun of like Daryl Hannah’s outfit or something—and I remember being like, Wait, are they allowed to do this?
[Laughs] Is there a law? Are they going to be arrested and taken off the newsstands for doing that? I know! At the time I remember it just being like, There’s this whole way that people talk to each other that no one is doing in print; let’s do that! And it’s the way that teenagers talk in real life. But any time something becomes an accepted way of expressing yourself, it can really easily become cliché after that.
And when people are applying for editorial jobs, are there any common mistakes that they make?
One thing that people will do is they’ll write what seems like the same cover letter to a bunch of different publications. That doesn’t work well.
You can tell just from reading it?
Yeah, you can always tell. Even if they start out saying, like, “I always loved…” and then they plug in Glamour or Rookie or xoJane or whatever, but then they go on to say the same thing they are probably saying to everyone—you feel like, Wait, if you really love xoJane, you wouldn’t have written this this way. So it should really be genuine and tailored to where you’re sending it. It makes a huge difference.
That seems especially important given what you said before—that you never look at résumés, so a lot rests on the cover letter.
Especially because we’re talking about writing, so the letter tells you so much of what you need to know.
How did you learn how to edit, and how do you teach people how to edit?
I didn’t study journalism, so there wasn’t anyone who taught me. I mean, I was taught to edit in a very standard way—what I think of now as poorly—when I was at McCall’s magazine. But no one taught me how to edit the way I like to edit. But I think that every time I was reading something in another publication, I was thinking about how I would do it differently, or I would notice where in a story my mind would start to wander or when and why I didn’t want to follow a story all the way through to the jump pages at the back of the magazine. I was always thinking about those things as a reader of magazines. I’m wondering if you were the same way.
Yes, for sure. I think it’s weird that there are no classes in editing. No one formally teaches people how to edit a story, and I don’t remember ever being taught. Though actually, I learned a lot about story editing from working at a free weekly where our managing editor would give us her edits on paper and we had to enter her changes into the computer. Making those changes myself forced me to really think about why each one was made.
Yeah, I always—since Sassy—have been big on doing written edits with a red pen, so other editors can see the work that was done. I think it’s helpful for people to even see where I was going to make a change and then decided not to make a change. And personally I learn a lot from surrounding myself with other editors who have their own ways of doing things.
Did you ever want to be a writer, and do you do any writing now?
I don’t like my writing particularly. Every once in a while I write something I think is good. I think I’ve written like three or four things in my life that I think were nicely written. But generally speaking, no, I don’t like my writing.
I have a theory that you can be a pretty good writer and a pretty good editor at the same time, but I feel like great editors are not great writers, and vice versa.
Do you…um…do you agree with me, I guess is my question! [Laughs]
[Laughs] I do! I hadn’t ever thought of it that way, but I think maybe part of it comes from the fact that if you want to be a great writer you often feel competitive with other writers. But a good editor really appreciates good writers and wants to make them better.
Oh, I hadn’t considered that angle. That totally makes sense. And I feel like it’s almost totally different skills—like, the greatest writers are the ones who aren’t really thinking like an editor as they write. Like, when I write I don’t call it writing, I call it typing. I know where I need to go, and I just keep typing till I get there.
Yes, I really agree!
Success! If you were a teenager today and you wanted to get to where you are now, what would be your first step?
I would get into as many places as I could as an intern—places where it seems like the bosses would be open to and accepting of giving people the chance to write, or to do whatever your thing is, whether it’s taking photos or making videos or whatever. Try to get into those places, because your talent will be recognized once you’re in there.
What keeps you excited and motivated?
Good, creative work. When I get to read something or see something that’s being presented in a new way, it’s just so exciting. Also, seeing writers or editors develop or blow up, when you felt like you saw something in them—that’s really, really satisfying.
Is there anything in particular you want to tell the teenagers of the world?
Um, gosh, you know, it’s funny—it used to be that I would try to give teenagers a little bit of what some of the messages of Sassy were, but now I feel like they can get that with Rookie.
Which is awesome! You’ve taken a weight off my shoulders! [Laughs] I can retire!
That is so nice! We were obviously built in the mold of Sassy, so that means a lot to hear. OK, last question: What is Tavi’s emotional age?
Ooh! OK, so instantly I want to go to 39. I don’t know why. It’s just what came out.
Yeah, I would say that she’s definitely more mature than I am.
Ha! Same here.
I would say that you’re right around 15, actually.
Thank you! I would have guessed you would say like eight for me.
No, I think you’re like me in that you’re stuck in that teenage thing—not in a bad way.
No, I take that as a compliment.
But yeah, Tavi is right at 39.
That’s perfect. OK, Jane, thank you so much for doing this.
Thank you! It was really fun. ♦