Michel asserted that the heart of every special interest magazine is human interest. Photo by Jamie Browder
Editor of CookingLight.com, Christopher Michel, visited Comer Hall to give students advice and information about breaking into the world of professional writing on Feb 13.
Michel has been working in digital media for a decade and currently assigns, edits and determines the value of posts. Cookinglight.com has 6 million monthly visitors and began in 1989. Michel has been working there for a year.
“I backed my way into being an editor at a digital magazine, and the way that I did that was that I love working with words, and I love writing,” said Michel.
Michel told students that freelancing requires outreach and the ability to identify traits of certain publications.
“Study what’s been published on the site or in the magazine recently. If you’re thinking about writing for a magazine or a website, read it. Think about what’s missing or what you could add. Think about what they’re doing and what they’re doing well.”
Michel also warned students about the dangers of writing for free.
“One of the best quotes I ever heard was ‘exposure is what explorers die of.’ Don’t do it. Don’t write for free. Write for $25, $5, write for free concert tickets,” said Michel.
According to Michel, a career in writing isn’t something he envisioned for himself.
“I spent a lot of time having no idea what I wanted to do,” said Michel.
Michel received a degree in English at the University of Norwich in Vermont, and, at that point, dreamed of becoming a professor.
“One of the first lessons I learned really early was that my idea about what I wanted to do with my life and the actual opportunities that were in front of me were very different.”
Michel spent a year after receiving his first degree in English in the Republic of Georgia. He returned once again a year later, and then began to translate Georgian language poetry into English.
In 2010 Michael lived in New York with his new baby and girlfriend, and he still planned on being a poet.
Freelance writing was something that presented itself to him as a stay-at-home dad because he needed the income. However, he described it as something that has to be accompanied with other “side hustles” to be sustainable.
“Freelance writing is really hard, and you don’t make a lot of money, especially at first,” said Michel.
Michel began writing book reviews for the Brooklyn Rail, which eventually led to him writing for Bon Appetit, a popular food magazine.
Michel has also worked for Runner’s World Magazine.
“Every specialty magazine, no matter what it is, whether it’s model train world or runner’s world, is basically about people. It’s about how weird and interesting people are. It’s using a subject and topic as a jumping off point to look at culture.”
Alex Beringer, associate professor of English at UM, said it was important to him that students hear Michel’s story and advice.
“He’s a successful person who’s really interested in helping young people find careers. I think he does have a collection of really fascinating experiences that can offer a template for people who are interested in chartering their life after college,” said Beringer.
Michel concluded his discussion by encouraging students to leap for opportunities.
“I would say it took me a long time to get here, and I don’t know that this is any kind of end point,” Michel stated. “A lot of the time after I graduated, I felt like I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, or what was happening. I would often just leap at an opportunity that would present itself.”