How to Be a Beauty Editor

So you want to be a beauty editor? Here's my advice, plus 5 need-to-know tips.
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Michelle Villett
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So you want to be a beauty editor? Here's my advice, plus 5 need-to-know tips.
How to be a beauty editor

Okay, so I know this photo is from The Devil Wears Prada, which is about fashion people (who are, for the record, far more intimidating than any beauty person you will meet). And I don't post it here to imply that that book/movie is in any way representative of what it's REALLY like to work at a fashion magazine. (For starters, nobody actually lets you raid the fashion closet. You've got a much better chance of getting your hands on something from the beauty closet... which is just one reason why being a beauty editor is pretty fabulous.)

Seriously though—I mention The Devil Wears Prada here because what that movie did (and subsequently, The September Issue and even The Hills) was give people a TASTE of what the magazine world is like.

And lately, it seems like a lot of you guys want to be part of that world.

Probably the number one question I get asked is how to be a beauty editor. And not just since I started BeautyEditor.ca—every time I used to do public events when I was the beauty editor at ELLE Canada, nobody would care about what I was presenting... people just wanted to know how they could, uh, get my job. And I don't blame them: being a beauty editor is, in many ways, very awesome.

It is also an incredibly competitive field and truth be told, isn't for everyone. So here are some tips if you're thinking about this as a career choice:

woman typing on typewriter

1. It's not about the makeup.

Or the skincare, or the hair products, or the glamorous events, or getting to wear stylish outfits, or... you get the idea. It's about the writing.

Let me repeat: It's about the writing.

One of the biggest misconceptions about beauty editing as a job is that you need to be a beauty expert to break in. Not true. In fact, what you will find is that most of us have sort of just fallen into it as a career path after pursuing a job in magazines generally, and then became beauty experts on the job. Beauty editors are editors first, and beauty experts second.

So if you are a makeup artist, esthetician, hairdresser or involved in the beauty industry in some other way—I'm sorry to say, but it really doesn't give you any advantage at all if you cannot also write, and write WELL. (On the job, what beauty editors do is a mix of writing and editing—usually shorter bits of copy are produced in-house, but freelancers are responsible for longer, more in-depth articles, which the beauty editor then edits for publication.)

Beauty editing is also not about reviewing products. Since when have you ever read an actual, honest product review in a magazine? Almost never (this is one big reason beauty blogs have become popular, but more on those in a minute). When beauty products appear in magazines, it's more of a product mention, for reasons that might include: a) it's a new launch, b) the brand is an advertiser or potential advertiser, c) it fits into a story on, say, moisturizers. Falling far down on the list is d) the editor has actually tried it. (That being said, when a product IS simply amazing, usually a beauty editor will find a way to include it somewhere... but when it's placed in a sea of untested products, it can be very hard for a reader to separate the wheat from the chaff.)

The other thing that beauty editing is not about is the glamour. Sure, it's there alright—I can't tell you the number of interns I've worked with over the years who've become glassy-eyed at the sheer number of products that magazines get sent, or the fawning publicists, or the fancy events we get invited to where the champagne flows and the swag bags are filled to the brim with free samples. All of that is very nice, and it's definitely part of your job as a beauty editor to develop good relationships with beauty brands (both because they might advertise in your publication and also because they'll help you generate great story ideas). But if you are too caught up in this aspect, it is both obvious and detrimental to your career prospects.

Quite simply, what is required is to have an instinct for beauty writing—and that is MUCH harder than it appears. If you think it's easy being able to write about the 23rd mascara launch of the year in a fresh, engaging, compelling way, think again.

Teen Vogue internship The Hills

2. You don't need a journalism degree.

But you DO need to do an internship.

A lot of people want to get into magazines after working in some other field first, which is what I did. And I'm sorry to say, but that experience kinda means squat. Nobody is going to hire you for a mid-level position out of nowhere. There's just no getting around the need to suck it up, be humble, and do an internship (which is usually unpaid). Ex-interns are the pool from which editors draw to hire entry-level positions like editorial assistant or assistant editor.

In Canada, you will need to get thyself to Toronto (although there are a few jobs to be had in Vancouver and Montreal, Toronto is where the majority of opportunity lies). You can usually find internship listings on MastheadOnline.com or JeffGaulin.com, or just call the magazines you're interested in and ask.

To GET the internship, yes, it helps if you have some kind of journalism or English degree (although I have neither). More important is demonstrating some kind of writing proficiency and ideally, published work. (I'll get to that next.)

Also a good idea: take some courses in the Ryerson Magazine Publishing Program. Their courses on fact-checking and copy editing are particularly excellent.

Will going back to school and getting a post-graduate degree in journalism give you a leg up? Nope—you'll still have to be an intern when you start out, so I would say don't waste two years and $20,000...not if this is the ONLY reason you're doing it. (I have friends who've had a GREAT time at grad school, but in Canada, it's really not a necessary step to getting a job.) The good news is, however, if you're coming into this with a few years of other experience under your belt, you're likely to rise faster through the ranks if and when you DO land that job. At least this has been the case with the interns I've worked with—the older ones tended to be more mature, better writers, and with less attitude.

A quick word on attitude: it really can make or break you as an intern. I cannot stress enough that you should treat your internship as a JOB: show up on time, be polite and professional, and most importantly, be proactive in asking your editor what you can do to make her life easier. What you do IS noticed, even though you may feel completely unappreciated and insignificant. Editors are just super-busy, and probably jaded by former intern horror stories (trust me, we all have some). But if you can gradually earn their trust and respect, they will help you get a job later on. It's true!

I want you for blogging

3. Before you even go for an internship, start a blog.

So maybe you've noticed? A lot of ex-editors (including moi) have jumped ship from staff positions to the Wild West that is the internet. (I still also freelance for various print publications.) The trend is clearly going towards the web—and while magazines have never been the most stable places of employment, they're particularly unstable right now. There's just not a lot of opportunity for movement or advancement, particularly as you move up the ranks, and most publications are still fairly silo-ed in that print people don't really work on web stuff and vice-versa.

Starting a blog is advantageous in that:

a) it is pretty much like having your own personal magazine, which helps you develop the (writing, packaging, branding, snappy headline-creating) skills that editors are looking for (and the fact that you'll have web skillz, which are VERY different from print writing, is a HUGE bonus)

and

b) you might find that you don't even want or need to go the traditional print route to becoming a beauty editor.

Honestly, I think we're in a transition period right now where it's not quite clear how magazines are going to transform to meet the needs of the Internet generation. But I'd put money on the pendulum swinging to the web side—so getting yourself in the door now is SMART.

magazines

4. If you're still keen on getting a staff job, don't be afraid to pitch, pitch, pitch.

Internships only last three or four months, but entry-level beauty jobs come up almost never. Really, it's very tough to land a position—you need to know this.

BUT if you are determined, the main thing you're going to need to do is pitch story ideas to editors. Not just the editor you worked with during your internship, but at other publications too. (It would be a good idea to try and meet the ones at other publications while you're still interning, especially if they're within the same company, as a face-to-face connection is always best.)

When I was at ELLE, I was desperado for good writers—and NOBODY pitched me. It was absurd! So the opportunities are there—just make sure your pitches are well-researched and appropriate for the magazine you're targeting. A great pitch will take you far, but a really bad one can blacklist you. Do your homework first.

Kim Kardashian, OK magazine beauty editor

5. Know that being a beauty editor isn't everything.

Really, it isn't. (And I'm guessing that Kim Kardashian's job as contributing beauty editor of OK! is very different to the average beauty gal's life.)

As much as I love what I do, this job ain't for you if:

a) You want to earn a lot of money. I think it's different in the U.S., but starting salaries for entry-level jobs are about $30,000, if you're lucky. You're looking in the $50,000 range for an editor position.

b) You want a 9-to-5 job. You see, those events that we have to go to as beauty editors? They're great, but you still need to get your work done at the end of the day. So most beauty editors end up having to work long hours to get the work done that they'd otherwise be able to do during normal work hours.

c) You want stability. Magazines are sort of like (hopefully benevolent) dictatorships. What the editor-in-chief says, goes. Sometimes this is great and other times it's not. You just never know with magazines—just like any creative business, things can change on a dime.

There are a lot of other ways to be involved in the beauty industry, like beauty PR, or marketing, or working with the public directly as a service provider. So definitely research those options as well. That being said, I personally cannot imagine doing anything else, so even though it IS crazy tough to get into this industry, I think determination can take you very, very far.

So now tell me (if you read this far!):

Has it ever crossed your mind that you'd like to become a beauty editor?
Still feel that way?
Maybe some of my beauty editor readers can weigh in here... any other advice for aspiring editor-types you wanna share?