Next Stop: Your Magazine Dream Job

Chatting with Stephanie Wu, Senior Associate Editor at Town & Country

What is your career backstory? I fell in love with magazines at a young age. I grew up abroad, in Taipei, and magazines were (and still are!) my favorite way to stay connected to American pop culture; but wasn’t until high school that I realized I could make a career for myself in publishing. I attend NYU where I studied journalism, which gave me the chance to intern at many magazines while still in school. I jumped around various departments: advertising, art, fashion, features; working in all of these different areas helped me narrow down my focus while job hunting after college.

What is an industry pet peeve of yours? The general sense of doom and gloom; I fervently believe that magazines will exist, in some shape or form, forever. We’ve self-perpetuated this idea that print is going extinct, when in fact, with multiple platforms and brand extensions, the value of a print brand is actually stronger than ever.

Do you have a work confession? In order to come up with witty and fresh display copy, I spend way too much time on thesaurus sites.

What is a must-have on the job? Having a pen and notepad at the ready. Our office is an open space, and my co-workers are always dropping by to chat about story ideas or new projects, so I like to be ready to take notes at a moment’s notice.

What are a few of your favorite work perks? Food is one of my many beats, so I love trying out fantastic restaurants soon after they open. I never run out of great places to eat! I also love traveling for work, which is always a great adventure, whether for a story or photo shoot. Most of all, I love getting to work with the most creative people I have ever met—my co-workers constantly inspire me.

You started out on the creative/design side, what made you want to switch to editorial? I’ve always loved design in all its forms—I built my own websites as a kid, studied graphic design in school, and worked in layout design/production at NYU’s student newspaper—but writing and editing was always my first love, features being the department I felt I fit in best. That being said, my familiarity with layout design—not just what works best visually on a page, but how to actually use programs like InDesign and Photoshop—has been a huge asset for me at work.

Your resume reads like a well-curated newsstand; what are some tips to getting noticed by such landmark titles? Being able to intern during the semester was a huge bonus for me. Now that I hire interns myself, I truly understand how different the applicant pool is during the semesters as opposed to during the summer, where students from schools around the country flock to New York. Being a student in New York was one simple way that I stood out in the crowd; and there’s a bit of an avalanche effect—once you have one great name on your resume, you’re much more likely to get a second glance from the others.

What was it like creating a site from scratch being one of the founders Mochi magazine? Mochi is a site I started while in college. I had been taking classes in Asian American studies, and my friend Maggie approached me about working on this new publication with her. Together, we created the dream magazine of our childhood selves. This was 2008, and we quickly realized how impractical it was to start a print brand, which is why we made the decision to go web-only with our launch. The support was swift and immediate. Brenda Song signed up to be our first cover girl—and she really was truly the biggest Asian American female face on TV at the time—and hordes of people, high schoolers, college students, and recent grads volunteered their time as writers, photographers, designers, and more, because it was a cause they could get behind.

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Your book, The Roommates: True Tales of Friendship, Rivalry, Romance, and Disturbingly Close Quarters, was just released in August. How did you find the time and what was your inspiration? My roommate experiences have all been generally very positive, but I knew that I was in the minority. I’d heard so many horror stories from friends and family, and they were so entertaining, I knew I would be able to find enough to fill a book. My very first interview was a girl whose roommate was keeping a dead hamster in their dorm mini-fridge, so she could perform taxidermy on it later—we titled that chapter “The Amateur Taxidermist”—and I was crying tears of laughter during our phone conversation.

I did all my interviews on nights and weekends, and whenever I didn’t have an interview scheduled, I was transcribing or editing the interviews themselves. Some chapters required more editing, such as when I shifted parts of the story around so they made more sense chronologically, or winnowing down irrelevant details. I managed to finish my first draft in four months!

What is a favorite published piece that you’ve written? I write a ton for Town & Country, ranging from travel news, entertainment reviews, to celebrity profiles, but one of my favorite pieces has to be this beauty story I wrote last year called “Scents and Sensitivity” about my dislike of most perfumes. With much help from my good friend Kate Erickson, our former assistant beauty editor, I was surprised to find12 scents I actually enjoyed.

Where do you see yourself going next? The fantastic thing about working at a lifestyle magazine is that I’m a true generalist. I can write about travel, food, entertainment, beauty, home design, weddings, fashion—just about anything! My next step could be at a million different publications. Regardless of what that next job is, I know it’ll involve writing or storytelling in some way about the topics that I love.

What is some advice you have for others trying to break into the industry? Don’t give up. In the past five years, I have seen so many college graduates try to break into the industry, and the best way to do it is really to plant yourself in New York City, and apply for any and every job application that comes your way. You never know where your first job will come from, and that’s half the excitement! Also, teach yourself digital skills: take an html class, or learn exactly how SEO works—you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t have these skills down pat, because those who do will rise to the top much, much faster.

Location: New York, NY

URL: stephanielynnwu.com

Twitter: twitter.com/stephwu

Instagram: instagram.com/steph_wu

Facebook: facebook.com/theroommatesbook

Stephanie Wu was photographed in the Town & Country offices by Mary Fama.

Amanda Jean Black is a guest blogger at Ed2010, sharing stories from her site onthemasthead.com. When not hunting down publishing’s elite for an interview, you can find the native New Yorker obsessing about style and culture, shopping for designer streetwear, and jamming out to 90′s alt rock.

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