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Why Can’t I Be You: Jane Pratt

Without her, we wouldn’t exist.

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.

Uh-huh.

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.

Aww!

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.

Interesting.

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. ♦

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11 Comments

  • Phoebe October 25th, 2013 3:51 PM

    When will small and medium t-shirts be restocked? I itching to get one! Thanks!

  • Ariella95 October 25th, 2013 4:53 PM

    “I wanted to have the writers write a lot in the first person and be real people that [readers] got to know.” This just articulated one thing that makes Rookie so different from other magazines like Seventeen that use a lot of second person, basically saying, here’s what you’re doing wrong and how you can fix it. And I do feel like I know all the Rookie writers!

  • Bianca October 25th, 2013 5:55 PM

    Great interview Anaheed! Love this. Thank you.

    • Anaheed October 26th, 2013 11:42 PM

      That means a lot coming from a master interviewer like yourself!

  • Chloe22 October 25th, 2013 7:07 PM

    Every Rookie interview seems to be my favorite, but this one….ugh! I love it! I have always wanted a job in magazines, but more on the fashion and style side. My ultimate dream is to be editor in chief of Interview, me being the obsessive all things Andy Warhol/New York stories fan I am. W magazine is another favorite, along with Vogue (super duh). Editors are barely ever interviewed, instead they interview! Thanks for the behind the scenes-ness of this article, Rookie! When I run Interview, can I interview you? :)
    http://rhinestonemoon.blogspot.com/

    • Anaheed October 26th, 2013 12:35 AM

      I think the question is more will you hire us when you are EIC of Interview and Tavi has fired us all?

      • Chloe22 October 26th, 2013 6:54 PM

        Oh of course! Evil Tavi! haha jk :)

  • Snacky Onassis October 25th, 2013 11:26 PM

    I was 13 when my sister started her subscription to Sassy and it’s not hyperbole to say it completely changed my life. Most articles I’ve read about Jane lately seem to focus on how she’s such a “weirdo” boss and her relationship with Cat Marnell. It was really refreshing to read an article that focused on how she got to be the ground breaker she was/is. Great interview Anaheed!

  • Hayley G. October 26th, 2013 11:19 AM

    Fantastic interview! It’s great to be reminded that there are still people out there who care about what they do in life and don’t see it as just a job. It has definitely given me a kick in the pants to work harder!

  • darksideoftherainbow October 26th, 2013 12:27 PM

    great interview. i really like jane and read xojane and xovain regularly. like i’m-at-work-and-checking-for-new-posts-every-couple-of-minutes regularly. i was too young when sassy came out but i’m glad jane is giving me great stuff now!