Welcome to the golden age of television and pop culture recaps! Every episode of The Bachelorette is live-tweeted (and GIF’d), teaser trailers for Stranger Things snag their own listicles, and there’s a nonstop bounty of in-depth reviews and podcasts analyzing Game of Thrones to satiate even the biggest Westeros superfan.
Entertainment editorial is firing on all cylinders like never before, and nobody has it mastered quite like Sage Young, associate TV editor at Bustle. Ed talked to her about writing recaps, her biggest pop culture influence, and how to pitch her your reviews—and get them published.
Can you share your career backstory?
This is actually a second career for me. After graduating, I went into fundraising, marketing, and event-planning for non-profits—mostly arts-related. Finding myself creatively unfulfilled, I started a pop culture blog with a friend of mine in my spare time. Writing for my own site led to freelance work with a number of clients; eventually I amassed enough contacts and projects that I was able to quit my 9-5 and freelance write and edit full-time. But, being a social person, my goal was always to get back into an office and be a part of a team. I’d been writing for the Movies and TV sections at Bustle for about two years when they decided to hire another associate TV editor, and I was thrilled to be offered that job.
What is a typical day at Bustle like?
Working with our section’s staff writers, most of whom work remotely; editing and publishing pieces; fielding requests from and sending requests to PR teams to arrange interviews, exclusives, etc.; brainstorming content, which can include looking at what’s coming up on TV this week, watching tons of screeners, keeping up with conversations happening on social media, and having conversations with more senior editors; and ideally, doing some writing of my own!
What are the realities of writing in entertainment that readers might not know about?
There’s just so much content out there right now. I love TV to what may be an unhealthy degree, and even I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of it. One reality is that you won’t get to put 100 percent of your efforts towards the shows you’re really passionate about. You have to keep tabs on everything. But on the plus side, you may expose yourself to something you’d never thought of watching on your own but end up really enjoying.
Do you have any guidelines for writing a show recap?
When you’re writing a recap, you want to assume that most of your readers have watched the episode. Recapping is an art, as far as I’m concerned. If you’re just regurgitating plot points, there’s no point in doing it. You have to add something to the conversation, whether that’s some context the audience may not have thought of or a strong emotional response. In the Bustle TV section, we call them “reacts” instead, because we encourage our writers to come at them with a specific angle and point of view. So many people are doing it; you have to set yourself apart.
What piece are you most proud of right now and why?
Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a unique and hilarious voice in this industry, and it was so much fun to sit down with her for Bustle’s Comedy IRL series.
Fill in the blank: the TV show on the rise everyone should pay attention to is _________ because _________.
This is so hard! I’m going to say American Gods, because it’s stunningly gorgeous, funny as hell, and a timely love letter to the legacy of people from other lands immigrating to this country and bringing their cultures with them.
What pop culture moment has made the biggest influence on your life?
I discovered The X-Files right around the time my parents got dial-up Internet. As my interest in that show grew, I was able to go online and experience real fan engagement for the first time. I learned what fandom was—how it should function, how it shouldn’t—and most importantly, that I wasn’t the only person who cared this much. I wasn’t the only weirdo obsessed with a fictional world! It was pretty life-changing.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to get into entertainment editorial?
The most important thing that you can do is be reliable. Make your deadlines. If you can’t, reach out with plenty of notice. Read the style guide thoroughly. You can be the most thoughtful, effective writer in the world, but if your editors can’t count on you, you’ll find it hard to take that next step.
Any tips for pitching you at Bustle? I want to read something that has a strong stance—your take on the subject matters as much, if not more, as the subject itself. It also helps, if you want to do a reported piece, to tell me what kinds of sources you have lined up. And be familiar with what we actually publish and the shows Bustle readers care about.
Photo: Sage Young
Heather Taylor is a former entertainment writer turned brand mascot aficionado (and head writer) for Advertising Week’s Icon Blog. She shares her thoughts on pop culture at HelloGiggles and has been published in Brit + Co, The Drum, and BettyConfidential. Chat with her about anything from SNL to the Pillsbury Doughboy on Twitter @howveryheather. GIFs highly encouraged.