How I Launched My Own Magazine: Chat with Andréa Butler of Sesi

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Movies like The Devil Wears Prada and The September Issue make the magazine world seem super scary. But not all magazine editors are as terrifying as the titans of high-fashion publications. Case in point: Andréa Butler, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Sesi Magazine. Andréa has always been fascinated by magazines but also frustrated by the lack of diversity in their pages, so she decided to launch her own.

What does an Editor-in-Chief do with her day if she’s not scaring her staff senseless? And do YOU have what it takes to launch your own career in publishing? We catch up with Andréa to find out!

Where did you go to college and what did you study?

I went to The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (Spartan Pride!) and was an English Major, Class of 2003. For grad school, I went to Kent State University and majored in Journalism, Class of 2005.

Where did the idea for Sesi come from and how did you go about creating this publication?

Sesi is a quarterly magazine that’s edited for Black teen girls ages 13 to 19. I literally got this idea when I was about 17 and I was sitting on my bedroom floor flipping through a magazine. I was obsessed with magazines—my mom said I had a “sickness” (LOL) because I couldn’t leave a store without buying one. However, I always noticed that girls like me (Black girls) were not represented—and still aren’t today. There’s rarely a Black girl on the cover or in the photos in the inside pages of “mainstream” magazines. The ones that were there were tokens—one Black girl in the hair section, for example, didn’t have my hair texture, so I couldn’t do that style or one in the beauty section didn’t have my skin tone, so I couldn’t wear that look. Meanwhile, there were white girls with red hair, blonde hair, brown hair, etc.—their whole spectrum was represented, while Black girls (and other minorities) were not/are not. I decided that if things still hadn’t changed by the time I was done with school, I’d start my own magazine. And I did. :)

Did you have any entrepreneurial experience before Sesi? What do you think it takes to make it as an entrepreneur?

I didn’t have any entrepreneurial experience before Sesi—I started working on a business plan for the magazine when I was 23 and in graduate school, and actually did the initial launch while I was teaching high school in December of 2009.

To be an entrepreneur, it takes several things, but mostly a willingness to learn and work really hard. You don’t have to go to business school to be an entrepreneur; you just need to know your field inside and out, and stay on top of what’s new in the industry. You also have to be very dedicated and really have a passion for your work.

What is a typical day like for you?

Currently, I still have a full-time job on top of running the magazine, so my days can be pretty hectic. I work nine hours and then go home, relax and have dinner, and then work on the magazine for a few hours before going to bed. The magazine part of my day is my favorite, since to me, it doesn’t feel like “work.” I know that’s kinda cliché, but it’s true. I enjoy it, so it just feels like I’m fulfilling my passion and creating a wonderful product for our readers.

What drew you to your current profession? Which skills, education, and experience were necessary to get you there?

My current day job is at LivingSocial, where I’m a senior editor. My creativity, leadership, and writing skills landed me this position. For the magazine, you need the same skills. And since I majored in English in undergrad, I decided to go to grad school to study journalism, with a concentration in magazine journalism, so that I could learn more about that industry—I had no clue. All I knew was that I loved magazines. So, becoming educated in your chosen field is of utmost importance.

What was your college major? How does it relate to your career path?

In undergrad, I majored in English and minored in music. In graduate school I studied journalism. Both directly relate to my career path, as I am a writer/editor—in my day job and as editor-in-chief of Sesi. Creativity, strong writing and editing skills, research skills, leadership skills, public speaking skills, and critical thinking skills were all honed in school, and further developed outside of school, and all play a role in my career path.

What are your favorite things about your job? Which aspects would you change if you could?

My favorite thing about being editor-in-chief of Sesi is that I am in charge of the content, sourcing of freelance writers and photographers, and the overall product. I also love hearing from readers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and via email. It feels so great to know that the girls really love it! I wouldn’t change anything about my editor-in-chief role.

What advice would you give to college students interested in pursuing a career path similar to yours?

The advice I’d give college students is to really hone your craft while in school, and talk to professors who are supportive of you. Also, get involved in your campus magazine or newspaper or other club, which can help you learn leadership skills, organizational skills, etc. Making lasting friendships while in college is also important—your friends can end up being a great support, as well, and will be the perfect ones to start networking with after graduation.

Students should also join student chapters of their field’s professional organizations. I joined the NABJ (the National Association of Black Journalists) while in graduate school, and am still a member today. There are annual conventions where you meet a lot of people who are always supportive of what you’re doing, and you also maintain professional development through the workshops that are offered at the conventions. At this year’s convention, I had my first booth at the career and exhibition fair. It helped get the word out about Sesi and I met a lot of new people!

What’s your favorite topic/column in Sesi?

The articles change each quarter, but we do have some things that are always in the magazine—the editor’s note, a new column called “Breaking Down the Wallflower: The Shy Girl’s Guide to Dating,” our Work It, Girl! career profiles, the “Holla” page (where readers write in what they think about an issue), and the horoscopes. I honestly like every part of the magazine, I really can’t nail down something I like more than something else.

Besides Sesi, which magazines and publications do you regularly read?

Essence and Cosmo.

Homework time! Andréa talks about the importance of becoming a member of student chapters of professional organizations. Spend some time researching organizations in your field(s) of interest (it’s okay if there’s more than one!) and see if they offer student chapters or have any upcoming events you could attend.

Find Sesi Magazine on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Or find out more about contributing to Sesi here.

Photo by Jessica Gressa

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