Anne M. Raso is a freelance entertainment and lifestyle journalist who has lived in NYC for 25 years and grew up in northern NJ. She is a former Tiger Beat associate editor and New York Daily News Sunday rock columnist. Over the years she has written for Today’s Black Woman, Playgirl, Circus, Modern Drummer and over two dozen other titles. You can find her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her Twitter handle is anne241. These days, Anne works on teen star specials for Teen Dream and Word Up magazines, Discovery Girls Magazine’s celebrity roundup stories and is a regular contributor to financefoodie.com, themacwire.com and ontheteenbeat.com.
Describe yourself in 3 words: Fun-loving, adventurous and persistent.
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? I started pursuing journalism when I was 14 because I wanted to make it my livelihood and I had already started to do it in my junior high school’s journalism program. I got hooked up with a local paper called The Paterson (NJ) Evening News in late 1974 and did my first interview (with Ron Mael of the rock group Sparks) a couple of days before my 14th birthday in 1974 at the Essex House Hotel. I wrote for free and was hooked up by my grandfather who knew the publisher of the paper. Later on, I wrote for The Aquarian Weekly (ages 16 to 19) for $35 per story. I was not a professional until I got a job with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich on Toy Trade News out of school in late 1982.
How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? I probably wrote for 20 hours a week even when I did not make a living at it.
Describe how difficult the business really is? It is pretty much impossible to make a living as a journalist now—at least as a freelance one. Everyone wants you to write for their website for free…just to “gain exposure.” I really do not need the exposure at this point. People try to start their own websites and make money by getting ads or sponsoring events, but that is still spotty in terms of payment.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? I have always been diligent about turning in my work but I was asked to submit a travel piece on New Orleans “on spec” to a big daily paper, and I just never turned it in because I was afraid they would never use it. I should have taken that chance because maybe I could have started a good travel writing business.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Don’t be afraid to cold call editors because the worst thing that could happen is that they will just say no.
In your mind, is formal training essential? As a writer, definitely not—but if you want a full-time editor’s gig at a magazine company, they are definitely going to check that you have an English, Communications or Journalism degree.
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? I never had a mentor so I am not a good one to comment on that. I have found that sometimes it can work against you when you get someone to mentor who expects too much out of you (free tickets to events, schmoozes people a little too much, etc). It’s a nice thing to do for someone starting out but to be honest, I have not done much of it.
What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? Start out writing for free for local papers and offer to do publicity for artists/causes/places that you genuinely care about, and get experience writing bios or press releases for them.
What kept you going when you felt like giving up? Just the fact that I can’t do anything else, LOL!
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? Well, I believe that there are tougher times than others to start out in any field. Now is not a good time for journalists. Publishers want editors to do more work in house and so less freelancers are used. Travel editors want you to write about destinations for free because you’re getting a comp trip. I would advise anyone right out of college to try to start their own sites and have their best clips on them…then go ahead and send directly to editors and publishers whose information you find right on the mastheads of magazines. Also, while in college, try your best to get an internship at a popular magazine—most English and Journalism departments can place students. The best place for finding editorial job ads, by the way, is mediabistro.com followed by journalismjobs.com.