Current Job: Freelance Producer for Elle.com
Graduation Year: 2009
Hometown: Northwood, OH
When you hear the job “freelancer,” the first thing that comes to mind is not stability. Journalism professors are always telling their students they can’t make a career out of freelancing. Despite their low expectations of the field, former Bobcat Melanie Barnes has managed to make it work for the past two years. She’s freelanced for plenty of big name publications, including Time Out New York, New York Magazine, InStyle, RealBeauty.com and now Elle.com, doing everything from writing and producing online content to working with social media. Here she shares the ins and outs of forging a successful freelancing career.
HC: What made you want to go into the magazine industry?
Melanie Barnes: I had a really amazing Honors English teacher in high school who recognized how much I loved writing. She suggested I pursue magazines, and since I hadn’t thought about it yet I decided—why not?
HC: How did you get started in magazines?
MB: After I graduated from Ohio University, I had two thoughts in mind; move to New York and become an editorial assistant. Once I moved here, the second bubble burst pretty quickly! I reached out to an OU alum I had met during Scripps Day, and he offered me a post-grad internship at his business-to-business magazine. It was mostly fact checking, but I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without that experience.
HC: What’s a typical day like for a magazine freelancer?
MB: That’s one of the best (and worst) parts––there are no typical days. I’ve been a freelance assistant editor at one magazine, then another publication fact-checking for a few months, and the next as an online producer. You get to wear many hats. Some day soon I’ll settle down, but freelancing jobs are currently what’s available.
HC: What’s your favorite thing about being a magazine freelancer?
MB: I feel like I’ve been everywhere! The editors I’ve worked with have been so inspiring, and it’s fun to compare each publication’s work environment. It’s also a great way to explore New York. The more places I’ve worked, the more I know my way around the city.
HC: What’s a favorite project or story you’ve ever worked on for a magazine?
MB: I had a great experience as an assistant editor for New York Weddings. It’s a bi-annual magazine, so I only worked on one issue. But I loved this couple I interviewed. They had a 20s-themed speakeasy wedding, and they had so much energy that I spoke with each of them for an hour!
HC: What’s one mistake you made in your career and how did you overcome it?
MB: I definitely should have tried harder for an internship while I was in college. I applied for a few, but the thought of leaving Ohio and going to New York for a summer was such an abstract idea to me that I didn’t try hard enough. Little did I realize how many people actually do it!
HC: What skills or experiences helped you find success in magazines?
MB: Networking. Almost every job or interview I’ve had has been via word of mouth. Always, always have business cards handy; you never know when you’ll meet someone in your industry and whipping out a business card is much more professional than scrambling for pen and paper (and less likely to get lost).
HC: What are some of your favorite pastimes from OU or Athens?
MB: I just loved walking around the campus. OU is such a close-knit community set against the most gorgeous backdrop. Nothing like walking down the street and running into five friends along the way!
HC: What organizations were you involved with at OU?
MB: For four years, I was an entertainment writer for the online magazine Speakeasy. My very first interview was with Afroman! That was nuts. I usually covered the Sibs Weekend concerts, so I also interviewed David Banner, Yung Joc and tons of others. I was also a tutor for America Reads my junior and senior years and had a brief stint as a host for WOUB’s Sauti, a talk show that focuses on minority issues.
HC: What’s your best advice for collegiettes who want to break into the magazine world?
MB: Write, right now! Starting a blog is easier than ever. It doesn’t matter if no one reads it; your future employers will be impressed, and you’ll be able to practice what you love to write about. And if your favorite magazine has a blog, be an active commenter. I’ve actually reached out to a few editors that way!