Last night I went to an American Society of Magazine Editors event where former GQ styles editor and current Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport was giving a talk about how he got to where he is today, and how he’s attempting to save the future of food magazines.
How he ended up as editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit:
Rapoport worked for his daily college newspaper at UC-Berkeley, considered becoming a sports writer, and then decided that he should write about food when he realized how much his eyes lit up whenever he started talking about it. Through some murmurings from a friend, he found out that the James Beard Foundation was looking for a writer and editor for their publications, and it was there that he really got to understand food, restaurants, and the chefs who were making culinary waves (“They asked me if I could write a profile of Daniel Boulud, and I said, ‘Who’s Daniel Boulud?’”). His experience writing and editing for the foundation led him to a job editing the dining section at Time Out New York, and then to a job editing the front of the book at GQ. When Jim Nelson became editor-in-chief of GQ in 2003, he was given the opportunity to be the styles and food editor—a positon he held until he was offered the job as the editor-in-chief at Bon Appétit. His advice for new writers: Get really knowledgeable and experienced in the topic you want to write about. Writing for a small publication for the James Beard Foundation and learning about food there opened all future doors for him.
On working at GQ:
Before Jim Nelson became editor-in-chief of GQ in 2003, Rapoport was editing the front of the book for former editor-in-chief Art Cooper, who he says had a less than stellar relationship with him while he was a staff writer. Rapoport says that if it weren’t for Jim Nelson taking over the magazine, he would have definitely quit his job and moved on to another publication—having a boss you respect, who you can learn things from, and who trusts your level of creativity is crucial. If you don’t have that, you’re going to be miserable very quickly, and you need to go somewhere else where you’ll thrive better.
On being an editorial assistant at a publication where there’s no room to grow:
What if you’re an editorial assistant earning $25,000 a year, and you love the publication you work at, but there doesn’t seem to be any room to grow on staff? There’s only so much love you can give until you get tired of getting nothing in return. Sometimes it’s easier to move on up by looking out for openings at other companies. If you wait for an editor job to open up at the publication you work at, you might be waiting for a very long time. “The economy sucks,” Rapoport said, adding that hiring freezes aren’t uncommon even if an editor or writer leaves.
On how writers get hired:
“I have never once hired someone by going through human resources at Condé Nast,” he said. How virtually every writer, editor, or art director has gotten hired? Recommendations. He hired his assistant by asking his friend Andy Ward, a former executive editor at GQ and the current executive editor at Random House, if he knew anyone. Ward’s assistant recommended her friend, who was quickly hired after a meeting with Rapoport. “It’s like a date,” he said. “You know in the first few minutes if someone is going to work out.”
Hearing “it’s who you know” was a little disheartening for some of the freelance writers at the event, but Rapoport said they’ve taken the first step by getting themselves to New York City. The next step is to start networking and building relationships with editors so you can start getting those freelancing gigs. If you have writer friends, ask for names of editors. If you don’t know anyone, go to events like the ones thrown by ASME last night. I drank my free beer and ate my free pulled pork slider and quickly took off to watch some Olympics, but some young and smart go-getters zeroed in on Rapoport, as well as editors at Seventeen, The Knot and Rachael Ray as I headed out the door.