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Beyond the Runway: Lisa Butterworth and Magazine Editing

So, you consider yourself a writer, even a self-editor. Ever thought of being a magazine editor? What would that look like? Keep reading for insight from Lisa Butterworth, Senior Editor of BUST magazine, into what it takes to become an editor and how it actually looks working as one.

Hailing from California, Lisa Butterworth now calls New York City her home, and is working in her dream job. She keeps her days filled with the many roles of a senior magazine editor, and her free time full of dabbling in the kitchen, supper clubs, and writing. Lisa loves words and the inspiring people and topics she gets to work with at BUST. Plus, perks like going to photo shoots, interviewing celebrities she has a genuine interest in, getting to go to the tents during fashion week, and catching movie screenings (Lisa dishes she “got to watch The Runaways just a few seats behind Joan Jett! I died.”) make her job even better. But don’t let the perks fools you- this lady is one hard worker. With a small staff at BUST, many hats to wear, and a tight budget, Lisa is constantly in communication with other editors, working with the art department, getting stories reading their best, even answering the BUST main office phone when needed. Here Lisa shares what being an editor entails and how things flow with the magazine production cycle.

M.I.S.S.: What would your expanded, descriptive title be?

Pop-culture sleuth, grammar nerd, story assigner/fixer-upper, deadline stresser-outer.

As an editor at BUST I cover a wide range of topics from fashion and beauty to DIY projects and cooking with plenty of pop culture-y stuff thrown in (celebs, movies, music, etc.). I figure out what sort of content I want to fill my sections with, run it by the rest of the staff, then assign those stories and work with the art department on coordinating images or illustrations. When drafts come in I usher them through the editorial process, from the writer on through to—finally!—the copy editor.

M.I.S.S.: What does “editing” mean?

It means taking a story and making sure it reads like a million bucks—that it’s got an interesting angle, doesn’t leave the reader confused, and flows in a way that makes sense for the topic. In actuality it means sitting in a semi-uncomfortable chair, staring at a computer screen, and arranging and rearranging words over and over again until they “click” while trying not to bite my nails.

M.I.S.S.: How much writing do you do?

It varies issue to issue. With all the work that comes with editing, it’s hard to throw writing on top of that but I’ll almost always write a short front-of-book piece or two, and if there’s something or someone I’m really excited about, I’ll tackle an interview or feature story. Like, I’ve got a HUGE girl crush on the actress Lizzy Caplan (she killed it on Party Down!), so when the opportunity to interview her came up recently, I was all over it. I also looooove to eat and mess around in the kitchen, so for our new food issue (with Liv Tyler on the cover), I gathered recipes from a handful of my favorite food bloggers and asked them about their own cooking philosophies for a feature spread.

The walls of the BUST magazine office

M.I.S.S.: What has your career path up to this point looked like?

When I graduated college I did an internship at a local newspaper in Santa Barbara, CA, and realized local news just wasn’t for me. If I had to cover one more city council meeting I would’ve slit my wrists. So I moved to San Francisco, took a human resources job at a computer company to pay my rent and boy, lemme tell you what, I did a LOT of unpaid writing while holding down that full-time office job. Eventually those unpaid pieces turned into paid ones (BUST is the first national magazine I was ever published in, years before I came on staff! I think it was kismet.) and I had a steady roll of article assignments from websites, magazines, and newspapers. About four years ago I decided to spend a few months in New York, and after volunteering my time for a few months at BUST, they hired me as a freelance editor. After one issue I came on staff full-time (a.k.a., dream come true!).

M.I.S.S.: What would people not expect from your role and what you do?

Hmm, well, I’m not sure what people think I do so it’s hard to say what they wouldn’t expect, but I guess most folks would find it surprising that I wear so many different hats. We’re a super small staff at BUST so even as I’m editing a major feature story, I’m also doing things like answering the main office phone line and transferring calls, wrangling images from various companies for a page layout, or helping lug equipment to a photo shoot or event. I basically do whatever needs to be done to get the magazine out, whether it’s part of my “role” or not.

M.I.S.S.: Where do your hours go each day?

The way I spend my day totally depends on where we are in the production cycle. Early on in the issue I’m scouring the Internet for inspiration, going to showrooms to see new collections, sorting through submissions, and trying to keep my inbox under control (a futile goal, really). Later on in the cycle, all my time gets spent editing drafts and then proofing layouts (which is when my inbox threatens to swallow my life whole with all its unread emails).

Around her office: fashion pulls, reference mags, and the current, finished BUST issue!

M.I.S.S.: What’s your favorite part of your job?

Oh man, how could I pick just one? I get to meet the most incredible women doing crazy creative things on a nearly daily basis. I get to be part of a magazine that I’ve loved for over a decade, one that I am proud of and that actually makes women feel good about themselves (as opposed to most of the other options on the newsstand), and I get to write and edit as a full-time job, whaaaaat?!?! So I’d have to say it’s all my favorite, the whole shebang.

M.I.S.S.: What’s the worst?

This isn’t technically part of my job, but my least favorite thing about this line of work is probably waking up in a cold sweat in the midst of deadline, freaking out about a possibly misplaced comma or fact-checking oversight or some other minor detail that my perfectionist brain just can’t let slide. Of course, it’s damn near impossible to print a pristine, error-free issue so those little printed mistakes haunt me forever!

Some views of Lisa's work desk

M.I.S.S.: What has changed about your work since you’ve been working with it?

Two words: the Internet.

M.I.S.S.: What stays the same in what you do?

No matter how we cover it (in print, online, with video, etc.), I’m still seeking out the newest, coolest, most exciting things in girl culture.

M.I.S.S.: What are you most proud of to date?

I love being able to feel good about the issues of BUST I work on, but if there’s one thing that makes me well up with pride, that makes all of the long hours and tiny paychecks worthwhile, it’s when we get a thank you letter from a young BUST reader, who says the magazine has helped her feel OK about being herself, has helped shape her idea of her place in the world, and has been there for her when it felt like no one else was. Doing work that elicits that sort of sentiment? That’s what I’m most proud of to date.

Some clips from Lisa Butterworth's fashion work at BUST

A few interviews and features Lisa has done for BUST

M.I.S.S.: What are your future goals?

To keep on writing and editing as long as I love doing it.

M.I.S.S.: What does it take to be an editor?

An obsessive love of words and storytelling as well as a knack for piecing puzzles together, cause that’s really all a story is—a gigantic puzzle made of phrases and ideas that has to end up with all its pieces in the right place.

M.I.S.S.: What should aspiring editors know or learn?

There’s no better way to learn it than to do it. The more you write the better you’ll write and being an excellent writer is the best foundation for being an editor. So just hit that keyboard till your fingers bleed.

Check out more about Lisa’s work and goings-ons through her website and twitter. And be sure to keep up with BUST online and in print!

Image Layout: C-Rocka

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