This is exciting. If you’ve ever wondered how writers break into the publishing industry and what motivates them in their professional lives, this interview is for you. Today, we’re traveling all the way to New York City for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what makes long time writer and current Vice President / Editorial Director, Ruthanne Terrero tick.
Ruthanne discovered writing at a very young age and was able to develop her enjoyment of it into what she does today. With decades long experience navigating her industry, she’s learned what it takes to thrive and how to truly connect with her readers.
Currently, Ruthanne is the Vice President / Editorial Director of numerous travel related print and online publications. She founded and has taken a leadership role in a program that focuses on new entrants to the travel industry. She also has a passion for guiding aspiring writers to help them get published.
1. Looking back, can you remember when you first became interested in writing?
I was in 5th grade and we had just moved. My father had passed away and my life had changed dramatically over the past year. It was a very tough time.
With the move, I had gone from being in a Catholic school, where everything was very strict and fundamental, to a public school, where the creative arts were very much a part of the curriculum. One afternoon, in my new school, we had a creative writing lesson, which meant we were given half an hour to write about whatever we wanted to. I can’t remember what I wrote but I do remember sitting at my desk and feeling a brand new sense of joy and freedom that writing brought me. I literally decided I would be a writer at that moment.
2. Was there a point in your life when you realized that you’d like to see yourself as a writer by profession?
When I was choosing colleges, I selected Oberlin because it had a Creative Writing program. I loved my time there and learned a lot about what makes good writing and what makes bad writing. When I graduated, I returned to New York to work in publishing.
3. What was life like after graduating from college with your Creative Writing degree? How were your first few years in the business?
It was the mid-80s and the economy wasn’t great, so I took a gig as a receptionist at a literary agency, which was very entertaining because we had some big-name clients. I eventually got bored servicing other writers, so I took a job as an editorial assistant at a financial magazine. In 1987, the stock market crashed on what is now referred to as “Black Monday.” That day, the editors of the magazine had to throw out an entire issue that was just going to press and rewrite it to reflect the crash, overnight. The editor-in-chief was so desperate to get it all done, he threw me an assignment, even though I had not yet published any articles. Luckily, I had been studying the style in which he wrote (very clipped and sardonic with a lot of war motifs to describe the goings on on Wall Street) and filed my copy in just the way I thought he would write it. He loved it. I don’t think he quite realized that I’d purposely mimicked his style. The next day, I was promoted to assistant editor and became a published writer.
4. How did you go about integrating writing with travel? Was it an opportunity that presented itself or was it something you sought?
When I realized financial writing was not for me (there was no Google then to research and learn about the industry so it was super challenging), I decided if I were going to spend my entire day at a desk writing it should be about something I enjoyed. Writing about travel seemed to present boundless opportunities more so than my other passions, which included sewing and knitting and painting with watercolor.
5. What is the biggest reward from life as an Editorial Director in the luxury travel industry?
I do get to go to some amazing places and stay at the world’s best hotels. But for me, the biggest pay off is guiding a young writer who is truly serious and passionate about the profession and helping them to publish their first article. I’ll never forget that day the stock market crashed when I got my chance and I enjoy giving that opportunity to others to cross over to that “published” status. It’s life changing for them.
6. What do you think the most challenging aspect of being in your position is?
Finding a balance is vital. As an editorial director, there are many, many responsibilities in managing an editorial team; you have to ensure your writers are happy and comfortable in their work environment so they can produce their best work, but you’ve also got to exist in the real world. There’s the business side of publishing, which I’m quite involved with, but I still have to maintain the editorial integrity of our magazines and websites. There is the future planning to ensure we remain relevant to our readers. But I still love to write more than anything, which is the most challenging part. Managing and writing most definitely use two different parts of your brain and finding the time to write is the challenge, albeit a joyful one.
7. I understand that you’ve traveled around the world quite a bit. Is there a particular location that you enjoyed more than all the others and if so, what was so special about it?
I’ve just come back from a cruise through Greece and Turkey. Mykonos is amazing because you can get off the ship and be sitting at a seaside seafood restaurant in a matter of moments and of course, there’s always some gorgeous cat sunning themselves on a stone wall or in the middle of a street.
In Turkey, I was delighted with how mellow and hospitable everyone was. We went sailing one day in Bodrum on a yacht and I believe it was one of the top five experiences of my life because the water was so beautifully clear. We even pulled over to a cove and went swimming, then had a beautiful seafood lunch with crisp white wine. Istanbul is amazing because it’s developing rapidly in a very dynamic way, yet it’s filled with antiquities.
Savannah and New Orleans are my tried-and-true favorites because I love Southern cities that have the promise of being haunted.
8. Having written for both print and the web, what do you think the primary differences are between the two? For a writer, does one offer an advantage over the other? Are there pitfalls to be concerned with?
Because reading in print is much more of a visual experience, (one can see the entire page and possibly the page after it with a layout of photos, so the beginning and end are in sight) I believe you can still take your time a bit to roll into a story. Not too much, mind you, as people don’t have a lot of time to read these days so you’ve got to get to it.
A pitfall with print travel writing is what I call the “long and winding road” feature that’s all about how the author feels about a place and never getting to the point of a story. I once took an issue of a travel magazine on a plane I was taking to Tuscany because on the cover it said there was a story about Tuscany inside. Turns out, the article was all about how the author felt when he landed at the airport and how he felt in the car on the way to his hotel and it ended without telling me a single thing about the destination. It’s okay to share some emotion, but with travel writing there’s got to be the delivery of facts. I left the magazine on the plane.
With web writing, you’ve got to get to it more quickly. Jump in and jump out. The biggest pitfall with web writing these days is people are writing too short at times. A paragraph on a piece of travel news that has no background or context doesn’t work. Bad journalism is bad journalism. Being online is no excuse for writing short or being careless with facts. You can’t leave the reader guessing what you were trying to say or expecting them to Google the topic so they get a full view of what you’re talking about.
9. Has your role in the industry evolved through the years? If so, can you tell us what your role used to entail as opposed to what it entails now?
Before online, it was all about print and we had a weekly news deadline. We’d stay late on Thursdays to get the very latest coverage into print. Now, news is always happening and we’re always publishing. We still have print deadlines, but they’re every other week and we tend to save the news for online.
Print, however, has become more intense in that we do many industry profiles that are cover stories. These pieces delve very deeply into the careers of the most successful travel industry executives and take a lot of time and research.
People still get a thrill out of being featured on the cover of a magazine. I’m not sure there will ever be an online experience that will replace that.
10. In your opinion, what makes a great travel story?
A great lead that pulls the reader in, no more than three or four sentences. The rest should be a well-written piece filled with facts that are pulled together with amazing prose to ensure that the readers are enjoying themselves as they’re learning about a place to visit. If reading about travel is not enjoyable and educational, you’ve not done your job as a writer.
11. What characteristics do you think all good writers have in common?
Being able to focus on your craft is the only common denominator I can think of. If you don’t have focus, you’ll never be able to drill down to that place where your mind is thinking clearly and purely about words and thoughts and putting it all together properly. Otherwise, I think we all do it differently. Some write on inspiration, others are very staid and diligent.
12. I see that you have a passion for mentoring aspiring editors and writers. Can you offer some words of wisdom for those thinking about breaking into the world of writing and travel?
If you’re pitching a story or interviewing for a writing position, read, read, read the publications and websites of the company you’re trying to break into. An editor can tell right away if you’re winging it. Also, if you’re pitching a travel piece, don’t just say you’re going to a hotel or destination and can I write about it for you. Tell me why this piece needs to be written and ensure you’re pitching me the type of story we write about.
13. Can you share or recommend any travel related books or authors who have influenced you through the years?
I love good, funny non-fiction. I was a big fan of Nora Ephron.
14. Do you regularly visit any industry websites or blogs for inspiration? If so, which ones?
I tend not to go to industry sites, more than anything I’ll read The New York Times, of course to get the news but also to expose myself to some excellent writing. Immersing myself in great prose, fiction or nonfiction, puts me in the groove to write. I also read the Daily Telegraph out of London every morning.
15. What do you see your industry looking like in 10 years? Are there any noteworthy changes on the horizon?
There’s always the threat that print will go away completely, but it hasn’t yet, at least in the travel arena, because there’s nothing like a full page travel advertisement of a hotel or destination to inspire someone to purchase travel. Banner ads don’t have the same effect. Either way, there will still be a need for professional first-hand, travel content, whether it’s in print or online, or both.
What’s important is we keep an eye on what today’s travelers want to know about. Millennial travelers want to hear about new boutique hotels in edgy destinations, they want to live like locals and understand how to get that travel experience. People of all ages are traveling the entire world as they never have before and we’ll have to be sure we’re providing them with relevant and inspiring content that they’ll use as a reference.