Last week, I shared my journey of being a beauty editor and writer. To continue this discussion, I got in touch with beauty writer and blogger, Sally Underwood who contributes to magazines, newspapers and blogs around the world, writing about skincare, hair and all things beauty.
Q: Hi Sally! I’ve known you only via Instagram and I know you’re a beauty writer based in the UK, but please introduce yourself to the readers.
A: Hello! Actually, while I’m from London and have spent most of my life there, I’m currently based in the south of Spain where I spent a few years writing for a paper. From here, I’m lucky enough to be able to write for publications across the world- as well as getting some pretty lovely weather!
Q: How did you get your first break in beauty journalism?
A: I actually started off as a news journalist. Before journalism, I was a Parliamentary researcher, speechwriter and caseworker in London so writing, news and politics had always been a big part of my life. So when I began writing as a journalist it felt like a natural progression to cover what was going on in the world.
Writing for a large regional newspaper, I was gradually given more and more opportunities to do some features writing, which over time turned into a focus on beauty. From there I was lucky enough to be able to begin writing freelance for a number of publications and it sort of went from there.
Q: What’s a typical day in your life as a contributing beauty writer & editor?
A: I always have a pretty clear idea of what work on I have in any week/month so a typical day generally first involves looking at the diary to see what I’m going to be writing about that day. If that involves a specific subject or title for a magazine, this sees me settling down in my home office to brainstorm some ideas for titles and article structure, before digging in to research and then beginning to write down my first thoughts or notes.
After that, it’s a lot of editing and double-checking of facts/prices etc, and then possibly scouring for photos if the article requires me to find them. The rest of the day I will spend planning or getting on with any product research or testing of products for future articles.
I write pretty much every single day, unless I happen to be catching up on a day of photography or Pinterest and social media for my own blog. I find that writing every day is hands down the best way to hone your voice, and the more you do it the quicker you get too- which comes in handy when you have a 1,200 word article to write. Currently, I write four long-read pieces for my own blog a week, plus a full newsletter and then social media posts. That’s before my journalistic writing, which varies from week to week, but it roughly totals around 10,000- to 15,000 words a week.
Publications I contribute to include The Weekend Pages, FROW Magazine, Hairstyle on Point, The Street Vibe, The Right Hairstyles, and Glaminati.
Q: Do you have any advice for fellow freelancers looking to get work?
A: I think the two main things are building up a portfolio of work and just putting yourself out there. A portfolio is useful firstly because it gives you previous work to show commissioning editors, but previously published articles are also a way editors can find you- and can often lead to unexpected offers of work.
And putting yourself out there is important because I’ve often found that a simple introduction or hello email can be the start of a long work relationship.
While most of my work comes from editors who have found me either via previous work or Instagram (also a really useful tool for getting your name out there), you’d be surprised how many opportunities come up when you simply reach out to the publications you particularly admire.
If you don’t get a reply after an initial email, I think it’s absolutely fine to reach out once again, a few weeks later. Instagram can also be a useful tool for getting in touch too, as it has quite a collaborative, informal feel and I find most people are open to being contacted.
Q: When it comes to sponsored or gifted beauty products/reviews, how do you ensure you keep an editorial stance?
A: Essentially my stance is to treat all products I write about- PR samples or not- equally. That means that if I’ve been sent a PR sample, I write about it using my honest views; exactly as I would if I had bought a product myself or had found a product via online research.
I try to make sure to always maintain balance, too, so if I have any notes about how expensive a product is or that it runs out quickly, for example, I will include these whether a product is a sample or not.
Another tip is if there’s a product I really do think is worthwhile, instead of simply covering its positive points, I try to include some practical tips for using it. I find this makes me put myself into the place of the reader more, and hopefully offers some useful information too.
And finally, I also try to give equal page space to PR samples, beauty products I have bought myself, as well as the products I have researched.
Q: That sounds great. Do you have any tips for an aspiring beauty writers?
A: I honestly think the most important thing is to just keep writing. I find my own writing style changes all the time, and it’s through practice that you hone and refine your own unique style. The more you write, too, the more opportunities you have to be published!
Q: I’m sure you attend a lot of beauty events… do you have any tips on how to conduct yourself there? What is the culture like in Europe?
A: Actually, because I live in Spain but am from the UK and write for publications all over the place I don’t actually get the opportunity to attend that many beauty events, unfortunately, as most of the travel would just take too much time away from writing.
But when I do attend an event, like you I really tend to view it very much as a work meeting, rather than a social occasion.
While events can definitely be fun- and there’s always beautiful decorations and food and drinks- I tend to have put together a list of questions I have before I go in and always just make sure I have those answered, as well as getting any photos I might need. If I have time, I’ll mingle and chat to a few people, but otherwise, it’s pretty much straight back to work!
Q: Please talk about the key skills you think any beauty editor needs to work on in this day and age? I know I love your Instagram aesthetics.
A: I think that now that Instagram and YouTube etc mean that everyone can publish their views, videos and photographs, beauty editors really need to be able to match that and have a wide range of skills too. While even five years ago the expectation might have been just to be asked to write an article, now it is more likely to include photography, perhaps promoting on social media, and even videography too.
So I think it’s important to stay refine photography skills, if possible, and have an understanding of some of the most popular editing or social media apps.
Thanks for reading Sally’s post.