As a frequent xoJane reader, where I spent the majority of my time in the beauty section, I thought it was genius when Jane Pratt and Say Media announced that they were launching xoVain, a standalone beauty site.
xoVain launched with the tagline “No Beauty Secrets,” and completely lives up to that ethos with content that feels more like you’re sharing tips with a close friend as opposed to a majority of other beauty sites whose content is often out of touch, to say the least.
I’m not sure how Anne-Marie Guarnieri first got on my radar, but I had been following her on twitter for some time and loved her witty and no-holds barred insight on the beauty industry. So when xoVain appointed the veteran beauty writer and editor as the site’s editor-in-chief earlier this year, I thought she was the perfect person for the role.
I recently caught up with Anne-Marie to learn more about her career journey, her PR pet peeves, the things that inspire and motivate her and how her she leads her team at xoVain to churn out award-winning content.
Hashtags + Stilettos: Earlier this year you were named EIC at xoVain.com after almost a decade of editing beauty content at other publications. What did the appointment to the top of the masthead mean to you?
Anne-Marie Guarnieri (AMG): It was unexpected. When Jane Pratt and Emily McCombs (executive editor of xoJane) reached out to me about working together, I was thinking maybe it would be for a beauty director or contributing editor role on xoJane.
But when she threw out EIC of xoVain, I really had to check myself: Was I the right fit for that title? I did a lot of thinking and consulted with some trusted friends (shout out to Teen Vogue’s Elaine Welteroth and Beaute Prestige International’s Jonathan Leacock for being great sounding boards) and family, and realized that yes, I was ready for it and all the good and bad things that come with being the boss-lady.
H+S: What does your role entail?
AMG: I’m in charge of the overall look and tone of the site. I have an incredible roster of writers and a fantastic team: managing editor April Walloga, assistant editor DaMonica Boone, and social media editor Donna Kim, who handle much of the day-to-day. I work with the writers to tighten pitches, connect them with PR and expert resources, help with creative direction, photo editing, and anything else they need. I also do market work, go to a ton of meetings, and write/top edit when I can. It’s important to me to find the time for that.
H+S: How is editing exclusively for the web different than your previous roles with print-first publications like Allure, Marie Claire, Teen Vogue and others?
AMG: I was a contributor to Marie Claire and Teen Vogue, and on-staff at Allure, so I can only speak to Allure here.
The pace is the number-one difference. We are writing, editing, and publishing considerably more content in a month than appears in a print publication. Just as an example, at Allure, I was the top editor of the [front of book] Beauty Reporter section, which had approximately 10-12 or so stories each month, all of which were short, bite-y pieces of around 75-100 words each. At xoVain, we post 30 stories in a given week, which range from 500 words and up. Also, unlike print, if you need to make a correction online, you can do it instantly, which is fabulous. Running a correction in print is agonizing.
H+S: One of the amazing things about xoVain is its community of readers. I often compare the comment/consumption culture at xoVain to how feverishly people share Buzzfeed listicles. How did editors at xoJane and now your team at xoVain create that culture?
AMG: It definitely began with xoJane. Jane and her team created an amazing, engaged, vocal community (they even recently won a MIN award for Best Online Community; xoVain won for Overall Digital Excellence). And many of xoJane’s beauty-obsessed readers migrated over to xoVain when it launched a little over a year ago. We, the staff, are very active in the comments; I read pretty much all of them because I think it’s important to understand what our readers are responding to, positively and negatively. I don’t take their opinions for granted and find that even when I don’t agree with their POV, I always appreciate it.
H+S: What inspired you to become a beauty writer? Was it a career you always aspired to or was it something you fell into?
AMG: I was in the right place at the right time, really. I mean, no guidance counselor in college ever told me, “Hey! You know what you should be? A beauty editor!” It honestly never occurred to me that it was a real job. It seems so crazy–I write about beauty products. My job is to get my hair done, try on makeup, experiment with nail art, make a custom perfume.
I have always been a product person; I even did makeup on the side for a few years before I moved to New York. So I was super invested in the beauty market as a consumer. My first job in New York was at Gotham and Hamptons magazines, published by Niche Media. It was a pretty lean team, so my beat was something like, watches, cars, art, and film. I was plenty busy with all that, but when an opening came up to take on the beauty beat, I volunteered without quite understanding what the job would be–I just trusted my instincts about trends and wrote about what interested me. My editors saw that I had a real eye for the market and encouraged me to make beauty my focus. Three years later, I was running the beauty department at Niche Media.
H+S: That’s awesome. Where do you go (or turn) for inspiration?
AMG: Instagram. The subway. Airports. I love a chic beauty editorial, but I’m way more interested in what real women look like.
H+S: What are some of your favorite non-xoVain blogs?
AMG: Pitchfork, Style.com, The New York Times, Jezebel, Temptalia, Well + Good, Fashionista, Racked, Gothamist, Animal New York and Complex.
H+S: What advice would you give to writers who are interested in writing for xoVain?
AMG: Read the site closely, get familiar with our [point of view] and style, and pitch!
H+S: What advice would you give to an aspiring beauty editor or writer?
AMG: Understand that as fun as this type of work can be, it’s still work. When I said before that my job is about trying on makeup and testing products and services, it doesn’t stop there. I have to turn those experiences into stories, with substance and service. And to do that, you have to be a good writer.
So much of what I read online sounds like the writer just re-wrote the press release that came with the product. Come to your own conclusions. If you have questions, find an expert to talk to who can explain ingredients or techniques. Be curious about how something works, how it’s made, where it comes from. Write for yourself. Intern. Create your own beauty blog. Consider beauty PR, too; I know a number of people who have made the switch from beauty editorial to beauty PR and couldn’t be happier. If you truly love beauty, there are many other ways to make it your career that go beyond being an editor or writer at a magazine/online magazine.
H+S: What is the best business advice that you’ve ever received?
AMG: If you don’t ask for something, the answer will always be “no.”
H+S: What are some of your biggest PR pet peeves?
AMG: Mainly, getting pitches that have nothing to do with our site or what we do. Now, I’m a really creative person, and can turn almost anything into a beauty story. But when I get a pitch that’s WAY off the mark, I just get annoyed. Also, the question, “Are you working on any beauty stories right now?” It’s like, what? Did you think this was a car site? That kind of pitch just baffles me.
H+S: How do you prefer to be pitched? Phone/Email/Social Media? No Preference?
AMG: Email. Always.
H+S: What types of stories, content or projects are you looking for for xoVain?
AMG: Our readers are smart. Our readers are opinionated. Our readers know a LOT about beauty. They are only interested in reading about what works, and I’m only interested in covering what works. I want to solve problems, all day, every day.
Also, we just launched a Wellness channel, because I think that plays a big part in how beautiful you look or feel, so I want to fill that up with smart content. We are very body-positive, so you’ll never ever see anything on the site that’s about “the sneaky foods that are making you fat” or “how to get ready for bikini season.” I mean, come on. You put on a bikini. That’s how you get ready for bikini season.
H+S: When is the absolute worst time to send you a pitch?
AMG: There really is no bad time to pitch. I’m not trying to answer PR emails on the weekends, though. Work-life balance and all that.
H+S: Name one thing journalists can do to have a better relationship with PR people.
AMG: Respond to them, even if you don’t have a home for their pitch. It’s just good business to let them know either way. I don’t do it as much as I should, but I really try.
H+S: I’m so happy you said that! How can a PR person or brand get on your “always respond” list?
AMG: Send me an idea that works for xoVain, and you will always hear back from me. Honest.
H+S: Complete the following sentences:
My favorite inspirational quote is… “Don’t talk about it, be about it.”
My favorite book is… Blankets by Craig Thompson
I had the most fun writing or working on… Any story involving perfume. It’s the market I know the best and love the most.
I’m most proud of… My writing. I never find writing easy, but it’s always rewarding and always gets my head right.
My dream interview would be with… Prince.
iPhone, Android or Blackberry? iPhone
My 3 favorite mobile apps are… HopStop, Spotify, Instagram
I have…unread emails in my inbox right now… 191
A fun fact about me is… I went to college on a vocal music scholarship.