We Begin ... My NYU Editor-on-Call Event Last Month with New York Times Editor, Julia Calderone
Breaking down what I asked (and why) and how she answered.
Last month, in collaboration with NYU where I teach, I was in conversation with New York Times editor Julia Calderone. It was a fruitful discussion with 500 people signed up to attend the free webinar I call the editor-on-call series.
In our discussion, I asked several questions. This is one of several posts where I will dissect what went on in that conversation—and also the context of the content and discussion.
My goal is to take you through my thinking process and the thinking process of a top editor. My Estelle’s Edge (aka publishing wisdom) will provide greater insight into the process.
By the way, when I am speaking with an editor, I usually as a courtesy share my questions with them ahead of time. The reasoning behind this is twofold: 1) I want them to feel comfortable. Many editors like to prepare for big events—I know I always did. Second, if there are any topics that they don’t feel comfortable talking about, they can tell me and I’ll take it off the roster.
For example, one time an editor told me that they were shutting down a particular column so didn’t want to encourage writers to submit there. At this time, I also confirm the bio they have previously submitted (I usually get the bio and headshot right when they accept to be in conversation with me in the event). In many cases, this is when they want to switch out the bio or add different information that is more current.
Here are the first few questions I asked, and my reasoning behind asking them. I will do a subsequent post with the other questions.
1) Can you tell me about your role as Senior Editor, Well, for The New York Times? How many stories do you run a day? A week?
I led with this question, because I thought it was a good entrée point to the conversation.
Julia talked about the genesis of her role—she started out in the now defunct parenting section of the Times. She works on well stories, and also on two columns (more on that below), and helps out on the desk when needed. Primarily, though, her focus is health and science stories, including nutrition, aging and chronic conditions.
2) What kinds of health or science stories work best for you? What topics do you cover?
I knew that the attendees were most interested in writing about health or science, so would want to know how to target their pitches.
Julia said she is looking for pitches that cover topics that haven’t been covered before, in a way that is evidence-based, meaning there are credible studies and research supporting the premise of the pitch. She is interested in those topics bubbling in the zeitgeist that haven’t been written about yet.
3) What is the approach you like best for your section/columns “Ask Well” and “Scam or Not”?
I asked this question because many writers like to pitch columns, because there is a track record of the types of stories and pitches that get accepted which make it easy to study.
Julia said that these are sections where she is most open to working with new writers as long as they come up with a good topic, and have appeared to read the publication. She is more likely to try a new writer on The “Ask Well” column, especially if they show they know who to talk to and have a solid question.
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4) How does the Well Desk operate? Do you still need approval from Lori or a committee for pitches? Have there been a lot of changes in the past year or so?
I asked this question because I knew that there had been significant changes to the Well desk since Lori Leibovich took over as Editor of Well, and wanted to give Julia the opportunity to address them.
She mentioned that a clear difference between how the Well Desk used to operate and now, was that writers who used to write opinion could also write for Well, and that is not the current standard. If you write an opinion piece, you won’t be writing in a reporting capacity for Well. That keeps church and state separate (aka editorial and opinion). I think this was an important item for her to bring up that provided greater clarity to writers.
5) Do you do some essays and do you have to have evidence-based reported elements for them?
I asked this question because the Times used to have more options for essays, when they ran the Ties column, which I published in, and so did many of my students. However, for Well, they are taking fewer essays, according to Julia, so the bar is high, and yes, they mostly need to have reported elements. As with most places that accept essays, they prefer seeing the entire essay. That is because you can’t really see how an essay will be executed, or the voice, from a pitch.
It was such a great conversation and I will share more about it, my questions and Julia’s response in my next post.
Publisher’s Weekly Delivers Good News
In other news to share: I received a Buy this Book Review from Publisher’s Weekly for Writing That Gets Noticed: Find Your Voice, Become a Better Storyteller, Get Published (available for pre-order now). The review said:
……this distinguishes itself in the attention given to dealing with the psychological effects of trying to get published, particularly the tips on dealing with rejection … and Erasmus offers encouraging words on persistence: “It’s about consistently showing up after everyone else has given up”). You can find the entire review here.
Writing a book takes a tremendous amount of work. Writing this book took me out of my family and regular life for several months (I was there in body but not in mind). I completely missed my daughter's last few weeks before she went to sleep-away camp because I had a deadline to meet. It took a personal toll on me, and yet, this is gratifying. Pre-ordering by the way is very helpful to let the bookstores and Amazon know there is demand for the book. That helps them decide to order more. So please go to estelleserasmus.com and you will find all the links. Thank you so much for your support. I can’t wait till you read my book. I put a lot of thought and love into it.
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