Tracey Minkin is a writer and editor with more than three decades experience with national publications and websites. Currently, she’s the Senior Editor Travel + Features for Coastal Living—a two-time Lowell Thomas Awards gold winner for general excellence. Tracey’s writing has been anthologized in collections and has won regional and national awards. She joins us this week to talk about her career, provide insights for breaking Coastal Living, and to talk about the do’s and don’ts for freelance writers from an editor’s perspective.
You’ve had a stellar career as an editor for regional and national magazines and as a freelance writer. Can you please share with us how it all unfolded for you?
It all began because I was a kid who read all the time and loved to write. I thought I could study fiction writing in college and do that with my life. But what I learned about three weeks into my first fiction writing workshop was that I could not make up a good story to save my life. So while I scrapped that career goal pretty fast, I persevered with more workshops and used them to study and practice the techniques of fiction writing—rhythm, plotting, character, compression of time, scene setting—thinking that perhaps I could use those tools to tell other people’s stories. Non-fiction, in other words. That led to a Master’s in Journalism in New York City, which was a great place to practice, and since then, a career as both a staff editor and a freelance writer for a crazy variety of magazines. In terms of travel writing, it’s been something I’ve always done as a freelancer among other types of pieces, but never a specialty per se. When Coastal Living’s travel editor left the post in 2014, her colleague called me to see if I wanted the job, and I pretty much dropped everything to snag it. People tell me I have the best job in the world, and I have to say, with incredible gratitude, I can’t argue with that.
What do you feel is the most rewarding aspect of your editing career?
One of the benefits of having toggled back and forth in my career between being a writer and being an editor is that I’ve enjoyed viewing the work from both sides of the desk. Which allows me to say that, as a writer, the thing I love the most is working with my editor. I always learn from an editor’s prompts, tweaks, and challenges. I’ve had sentences come back to me revised from trusted editors and I think, Oh my god, thank you! I’ll be that smart next time! Therefore, each time I’ve sat in the editor’s chair (and this is my fourth round on this side of the desk in my career), I’ve found it very rewarding to work as hard as possible to be that editor for any writer with whom I work.
On a more micro level, I love peering closely at a story’s structure, at paragraph and sentence logic, at word choice, while holding up the writer’s rhythms and voice. It’s an absorbing, deeply rewarding process, and I love it. Also, I really enjoy the partnership elements between editor and writer. If we communicate well and both keep up our ends of the bargain, then we emerge into publication so delighted and proud of what we pulled off. And finally, I love promoting the work of my writers wherever I can—one of my favorite things to do is post, at the end of the year, all the travel stories written for Coastal Living throughout the year. I even pull out my favorite quotes from them and post them on my Facebook page and link to the original. It’s so much fun to see how much talent and skill I get to publish every year. It’s better than Christmas.
What advice do you have for writers hoping to break into Coastal Living?
Getting published in Coastal Living’s print publication depends on two things: impeccable craft (and proof of it) and a carefully thought out sense of what makes a story a Coastal Living travel story, as opposed to a CN Traveler, Travel + Leisure, or Departures story, say. Because we’re a lifestyle publication, there’s a travel section and one travel feature per issue, so you need to read at least six of our most recent issues to see the kinds of storytelling we’re publishing, and the kinds of service travel journalism we’re doing. And then your pitch has to reflect that specificity. If you’ve got the goods and pitch a story that feels only-in-Coastal-Living because you’ve done your homework, you’re a whole lot closer to scoring an assignment. That’s for print. In digital, you need to check our social feeds to see the kind of digital we’re creating and promoting, and get to know how we take on topics, destinations, and so on. I’d add on the digital side that we only assign digital stories when we can assume they will do really well, which means they have to be clickable (in a good way). Round-ups, deep-dive guides on popular coastal destinations that you can’t find on our site… those are the kinds of digital stories we’d take a look at assigning. But again, you need great clips. We need to trust that our money is being spent on someone who isn’t going to take much editing, as there’s little time for that on the digital side.
When it comes to freelance writers, what are the qualities of your favorites? And, on the flip side, what will cause a writer to fall out of your good graces?
I love a freelancer who writes clean emails, doesn’t chat with me too much in correspondence, is always on time, writes clean, wonderful copy with no spelling or grammatical errors, lots of details, fully supported facts, and who never makes me feel like they have something else to do that’s more important than what I’m contracting them to do. Easy, right? Can we insert a smiley face here? But I’m serious! Those are all actions that build trust, and once I trust a writer, I’ll go back to him or her again and again. And recommend them to my fellow editors near and far.
What causes a person to drop off that list of trusted and beloved writers? Any of the above, in the negative. Rambling emails, late copy, excuses, telling me they’re not sure they can get to something because “they have another deadline.” Sloppy reporting, loose language, no fact check sources. I’m sure writers could make the same no-fly-zone list about editors, and I know I’d fall short in places because I have weak spots for sure! But when I worked as a freelance writer, I told myself that if an editor didn’t treat me fairly, it was my choice not to work with them again. I hope writers always feel empowered that way. We’re all human, but we’re doing our best to make the best stories we can for our readers.
You’ve won the lottery and have unlimited time and funds to travel. Where would you go and why?
Oh, my god. The tempting (and easy) answer would be to say all over the damn place, to the hundreds of spots I’ve dreamed of seeing and have not gotten to yet. And take a year to do it. But let’s make it more specific, and add a layer. For a place I have not yet been, but have really been dying to visit and would take my lottery winnings to do so? I’d spend three months in Scandinavia, where I have spent no time, alarmingly. I want enough to time create basecamps here and there, urban and rural, in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, make excursions to remote corners, see mythic landscapes, better understand what I think is a cultured and progressive attitude toward life, and inhale good design like the oxygen it is. On the other hand, if I get to return to a place I’ve been, I’d spend a month on Molokai, studying hula in its birthplace.
And then when I get back, I’m going to spend the rest of my funds on occupying a small, serenely minimalist house on the Northern California coast, looking out over the sea, and reading all the books I’ve been desperate to get to. Coffee, wine, and bourbon might play supporting roles.
Tracey was a contributing author to Fodor’s The Thirteen Colonies, a historical/cultural travel guidebook. Prior to joining Coastal Living, she was the founding editor of GoLocalProv.com, an all-digital news and information platform in Providence, Rhode Island. She has an MS from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Connect with Tracey on Instagram and Twitter.