Danita Allen Wood and her husband, Greg, revived Missouri Life magazine in 1999.Missouri Life was recently named Magazine of the Year by the International Regional Magazine Association for the second time. Missouri Life Inc. also publishes Missouri Business, a magazine for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as books and other custom projects. She was also founding editor-in-chief of Country America, which grew to one million paid subscribers, which ranked the magazine at Number 76 of the Top 100 magazines by circulation. Wood also taught journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism, holding the Meredith Chair until 2005.
Wood will present the breakout session How to Pitch Nonfiction to a Magazine. This session will walk you through pitching your story to a magazine, large or small, and touch on topics from getting through the gatekeepers to the best ways to pitch, to the working relationship with an editor and handling revisions.
Wood will also be available for pitch appointments on Saturday. Remember, this is on a first come, first served situation, so be sure to register early!
Brian: Ms. Wood, welcome. It’s so nice to have a successful Missourian publisher at our special Fifty Shades of Writing Conference.
So, I’ve read that you and your husband revived Missouri Life. I understand you did this when you realized Missouri didn’t have its own state magazine. Why did you feel this was something the state needed?
Danita Allen Wood: I don’t recall whether I thought the state needed the magazine. Rather, I think it was a case of me thinking, “Oh, this would be fun!” I liked making magazines, and I thought I could do it. I thought telling the stories of Missouri’s fascinating people, places, and past would be great fun, and I suppose on some level, I thought it would be a worthwhile thing to do.
Brian: Starting a publication from scratch seems pretty daunting. Also, we know the publishing industry can be brutal. With that in mind, could you take us through your journey in establishing the magazine, and perhaps share what obstacles you encountered? Considering that “hindsight is 20/20,” is there any advice you could share with other entrepreneurial spirits who might also want to take the plunge and launch their own magazine?
Danita: DON’T DO IT! ARE YOU CRAZY? Just kidding, although there were definitely times I might have thought that. It IS daunting. The statistics are not in our favor. Only about 30 percent of new magazines started are still around for a first birthday, and much, much fewer for their fifth birthday. We’re about to have our 15th birthday. That said, let me hasten to add that there was a magazine started in 1973 called Missouri Life. It had a wonderful reputation under the founding editor Bill Nunn. But then it changed hands many times and the name had changed, too. It was almost defunct (probably fewer than 500 paying subscribers) when we took it over. So technically, we “relaunched” a magazine. But it was exactly like a start-up.
Brian: I gave up on being published in a magazine when MAD said I just couldn’t write to their standards. Since you will be presenting a session at the conference on “Pitching to Nonfiction Magazines,” could you give us a tip or two—just to whet our appetites—as to what you look for when a writer pitches an article idea to you?
Danita: Amaze and surprise me with what I don’t know about Missouri, (because that’s what we like to do for our readers) or give me fresh, creative ways to approach stories on topics worth covering again.
Brian: You spent many years exiled in Iowa. What brought you back to the more civilized state to the south? Was it to bring Missouri Life back to life? Or did it evolve from another avenue you wanted to pursue?
Danita: I wanted my children to get to know their grandparents, and in my career at Meredith, I felt I was on the road too much. I actually moved back to take the Meredith Chair at the School of Journalism and to teach. I just couldn’t keep myself out of the magazine business, apparently, and Missouri Life is the result.
Brian: Missouri is often considered a ‘flyover’ state, one which many coast-dwellers only see from the window of an airplane, and often wonder, ‘Why would anyone want to live there?!’ Missourians know we have much to offer! What is one of the things that would you say to someone from one of the ‘lesser’ 49 states who has never visited Missouri?
Danita: It’s a Wonderful Missouri Life! Where else do the eastern hardwood forests turn into the western plains and prairies? The northern glaciers rolled down to the Missouri River, and then the Ozark Mountains bumped up below? You simply have to read the magazine to discover all the wonders.
Brian: One last question: Is it Missouree or Missourah?
Thank you very much for your time, Danita. We look forward to seeing you at the conference.
If you are thinking about attending the “Fifty Shades of Writing” annual conference to hear Danita speak, be sure to register by Dec. 31 to get the early bird discounts. In addition, early bird registrants can enter Chuck Sambuchino's query letter raffle and Matthew Frederick's pitch practice raffle.
Interviewed by Brian Katcher, author of Playing with Matches, winner of the 2010-2011 North Carolina Young Adult Book Award; and Almost Perfect, winner of the 2011 Stonewall Young Adult Book Award. His newest book, Everyone Dies in the End: A Romantic Comedy will be out March 2014. Visit him on the web at www.briankatcher.com