Monday, July 31, 2006


Renegade Writer Q&A: Rachel Weingarten

Rachel Weingarten (middle in photo) is an author, freelance writer, marketing maven, and all-around cool person. Recently, the chichi New York City department store Henri Bendel ran a huge promotion surrounding her new book Hello Gorgeous! Linda interviewed Rachel to find out how scored this coup, how she markets herself and her work, and how freelance writers can learn from her marketing genius.

Q. You got Henri Bendel in NYC to run a huge promotion surrounding your book, Hello Gorgeous! Okay, spill -- how did you pull off such a coup?

A. Okay, I think that people should realize that my 'day' job is in marketing and promotions, so to shake off some of the stardust -- it was less of a Cinderella story (though trust me, it was a fairytale) and more about me doing my job extremely well and working with a brilliant marketing and creative team at Bendel's. In other words, I do fabulous launches and events for clients all of the time, but this was the first one that I've done for myself.

The other thing is that it didn't just happen, I wrote the initial proposals way back in February and the week long event took place in July. It was months of back and forth, dead leads, detail work, bringing in additional partners and more. Bendel's went above and beyond in every element of this promotion, from the spectacular windows, to the displays, to the marketing, PR, creative and in store staff- I was blown away by their professionalism, attention to detail and enthusiasm for the promo. I cannot say enough wonderful things about them. I practically collapsed with exhaustion after it was over! What I really did in this situation was hire myself to market this book for me. Easier said than done, since Rachel the author didn't have the budget (or any budget to speak of) that GTK's clients normally do!

I'll paste in something that I'd written on FLX as well:

I think the misconception is that I, as a first time author, managed to snag a promo of this magnitude. The fact is that for my 'day' job, I run a marketing agency (GTK Marketing Group). As part of my day to day, I create brand strategies, produce major events (among others Fashion Week events, events for the Oscars and Golden Globes, and charity events), launch books/films/celebrity projects, and create promotions including for NY Times best-selling authors.

In other words, Rachel the author 'hired' Rachel the marketer to create a promotion. It was brutal, and took months of planning, proposals, preparation (what's with the Ps?) networking, calling in a lot of my existing contacts, making new ones, sweet talking, etc. The bottom line is that I never ask anyone simply to do something for me; whenever I create partnerships for launch projects, be it for myself or a client, I make damn well sure that they are getting as much (brand equity, exposure) if not more than I or my client are getting. For me this is second nature, so I can make it sound overly simplistic or even easy -- it isn't, it's a ton of hard work, brainstorming, frequent failure and more -- you all just hear about some of the successes.

I will quote an email that I received from a very dear, very wise friend who shall remain nameless (and I will hope that she's okay with me posting this): She was commenting on the fact that I make it look easy, and that others might not quite understand just how hard I work (and that perhaps I don't even realize how hard I work, because I thoroughly enjoy it): "An anecdote: years ago an acquaintance of mine interviewed the late Pierre Franey, who did an incredibly popular meals in 60 minutes column for the NYT (it predated Mark Bittman). She asked Franey how long it took him to do each column. He said, about an hour and 30 years of experience. I think that's how it is with you. You don't just wake up and say I think I'll ask Bendel to feature me in their window. This takes a life of collaboration, planning, networking, etc. If you've laid the groundwork it looks easy; if you haven't, you'll never pull it off." She's entirely right. This promotion was the culmination of years of work.

Q. How did the promotion go?

A. The promo itself was spectacular -- beyond my wildest dreams. I actually had Bendel's in mind when writing the book, so I'm sure that colored my determination to work with them!

Okay, the 5th Avenue windows were decorated with '50s style mannequins wearing "dresses" made up out of blown up pages from my book. At their feet were these cool sort of 'shrines' made up of beauty products used in the '50s along with copies of my book. And the windows were emblazoned with bright red script (like the cover of my book) saying "Hello Gorgeous!" When you walked into the store the main atrium entrance was transformed into a 'house' from the '50s and lining the center aisles were blown up images from my book in these cool neon kiosks.

Three of the coolest indie cosmetic brands (Pout, Tarte, and Benefit) participated. The artists from each brand wore satin hostess aprons emblazoned with "Hello Gorgeous" (three different colors depending on the brand) and each brand had a 'room' in the house. So you could sit at a retro kitchen, living room or bedroom and be transformed to a glamazon from another era. I was in the 'bar' section which was a cool and kitschy bar with stools set up for me to sign books during my appearances in the store. (okay, I'm still convinced that I dreamed it all, but pictures prove otherwise)

Q. How would you translate your promotional wizardry for magazine writers? Can freelance writers use any of your techniques to sell more articles?

A. Ah. another great question. I think that many magazine writers panic after some queries go ignored, and blame everything on themselves -- that they don't have a J school background, nor do they have contacts in place to help them to ease the way. I think that if you're good enough and have something new to say, people will eventually take notice. I think that the key is not to wait around thinking that you'll be discovered -- that's the fallacy.

And never give up when you know in your gut that you're onto something. For better or worse, I'm not terribly devastated when rejected. Sure it hurts (like a punch in my highly intuitive gut). Perhaps it's idiotic bravado, but when I know that I'm onto something I'll keep knocking on doors until someone opens, usually long after a 'normal' person would have given up.

I pick up magazines at times and am horrified at how trite or poorly written some of the articles are, and then I'll pick up a magazine with a story that I could have written better, and thennnnnnnnn I'll pick up a magazine and be blown away by the purity of prose of a really good writer. I learn from all three of these articles on how I can change and evolve. I think for many renegade writers, there's the attitude that they're different, and that's enough -- not so. You have to prove that your kind of different is the good different as opposed to the cross-the-street-when-they-see-you-coming different.

The other thing is when wrong to accept it and move on. Don't push if your story is stale -- what's the point?

Q. You sound like a real renegade chick. What are some rules you've broken in authoring a book, writing for magazines, or promoting yourself?

A. Thank you for that compliment! I am a rule breaker by nature (as mentioned above). I think that one of the rules that I live by is the fact that I don't live by the same rules that anyone else does, and I'm okay with it (after years of trying to conform).

When I started out in business people thought that I was insane since I didn't have a formal business background, nor did I have any connections -- be it in the old boy's club or high-placed sorority sisters. Your question actually illustrates the rules that I've broken -- I did all three at the same time -- while working full time!

I'm someone who firmly believes that if you want to do something (and it's legal), you should just do it. I think that as a society we can be bogged down with so many ideas of right or wrong, that we stop trusting ourselves. I think the key to being a successful rebel is in having something that doesn't work to rebel against. If something isn't working, then you figure out how to provide a solution that does.

Q. Where did you pick up your promotional skills?

A. I don't think that it's something that you pick up, or it runs the risk of becoming mechanical and far from creative. Some people play the violin, I get people excited about what I'm working on. I have honed my skills over the years and will continue to do so. I've had business mentors in my life and dear friends, and I mostly just study success and failure and try to learn from them. I also take genuine joy in seeing people get excited about what I'm working on. I've toyed with the idea of going to B School, but have been told that it would kill my creativity. I've been asked many times over the years if I have an MBA to which I answer, 'Yes, I do. And he lives in Chicago.' The other thing is that I turn down work all the time. If I'm not excited by what you're doing, I can't see 'living' with it for months or years, nor can I see getting other people excited by it.

Q. Have your renegade ways ever backfired?

A. Linda, I wish that I had but a single failure to share with you. I've had far more failures than successes, but I've learned not to dwell on the failures and to keep building on the successes. The other thing is that I have failed to live by corporate America's rules and therefore had to determine the career path(s) that work for me. I live by Thomas Edison's words: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Q. Fill in the blanks: Freelance writer is to marketer as:

A. architect is to interior designer.

Q. Do you have any other tips for freelance writers?

A. Love what you do and love your subjects. Passion is nearly impossible to fake and there are zillions of mediocre and poor writers out there -- let yourself and your subject soar.

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