Meredith Farley

On Content People, Meredith Farley interviews creative professionals and leaders to get a behind-the-scenes look at their career experiences and turn that into actionable advice for listeners. Tune in to hear from experts in various media, and get inspired to find contentment in your own creative career.

Episode #6 Summary

From fashion blogs and newsletters to personal essays and biographies, Amy Odell has done it all. In her chat with Content People’s creator and host, Meredith Farley, Amy explores how platforms like TikTok are changing the fashion and marketing worlds. And fresh off of 250 interviews for her new biography, Amy is ready to share what she’s learned about creativity, content and valuable conversations.

In the sixth episode of “Content People,” I learn something about Amy: She thinks SEO is boring.

To be fair, Amy is uniquely positioned to talk about the world of content creation. Her impressive career in fashion journalism spans big names like “New York Magazine,” “Buzzfeed” and “Cosmopolitan.” From fashion blogs and newsletters to personal essays and biographies, Amy has done it all.

Throughout our chat, she uses her expertise to examine the things creators do every day. Writing headlines, determining a topic vs. an idea, balancing marketing rules with creativity – it’s all just a small part of Amy’s story. Here’s a taste of what you’ll learn from her:

  • How to make good use of TikTok.
  • Whether you need to be in New York to succeed at a career in fashion journalism.
  • The opportunities and complexities behind influencer culture.
  • What makes a really good interview question.
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No matter your thoughts on SEO and its subjective boringness, you’re sure to find something to love in this episode.

Thanks for listening!

– Meredith Farley, Creator and Host of Content People

More Content for Content People

Keep Up With Amy:  Follow Amy on Substack to see her latest work.

Read The Book: Hungry for more fashion? Read Amy’s book, “Tales From The Back Row.

Brafton: Content is always in fashion, so stay trendy and read our digital marketing newsletter

Subscribe to Meredith’s Substack: Content People, here.

Podcast Transcript:

Meredith Farley: 

Hello and welcome to Content People, a podcast where we talk to creative professionals and leaders to get a behind-the-scenes look at their career experiences and hopefully turn that into actionable advice for listeners. Tune in to hear from experts in various media and get inspired to find contentment in your own career. I’m your host, Meredith Farley.

As some of you know, I used to be the COO at Brafton where I oversaw creative project management and consulting teams. I’m no longer with the company, but Brafton is still producing this podcast, so thanks, Brafton. We recorded this episode a while ago, so you might hear me make mention to my former role just FYI.

If you want to keep up with what I’m doing now, you can check me out on LinkedIn and subscribe to my newsletter, which is also called Content People. We’ll link to that in the show notes. Give it a shot. It’s a once a week send where I share thoughts and actionable advice based on my nearly 15 years of creative leadership.

You can also listen, rate and subscribe to Content People wherever you get your podcasts. Along with me in the recording booth today is Ian Servin, creative director of video at Brafton and producer of this show. Hey, Ian.

Ian Servin: 

Hey, Meredith.

Meredith Farley: 

On today’s episode, we get into the weeds with fashion and culture journalist Amy O’Dell. Amy has had a formidable career spanning from traditional magazines to her current work on Substack with a lot of impressive steps in between. Amy worked at New York Magazine where she launched the fashion block The Cut. Ever heard of it? Amy also built BuzzFeed’s fashion vertical and was the digital editor at Cosmopolitan Magazine.

She is an absolute powerhouse with a ton of experience and wisdom. Also, I feel like I want to acknowledge this was inadvertent, but we have a bit of a convergence happening. We chatted with Atusa Rubinstein, formerly of Cosmo Girl. Kimberly Brown, who writes for The Cut. We now have Amy, who is a bit of title book publications. I’m really loving getting to have these conversations with some truly influential leaders who shape pretty significant corners of cultural content.

Ian Servin: 

Absolutely. This has been really exciting. Last year, Amy published Anna, the biography of Anna Wintour. She also has a really fantastic Substack, Back Row, and that publishes an insider’s look into the fashion industry.

Meredith Farley: 

Yes, I love Back Row. I’ve been following Amy’s career for a few years. I was so happy to have her on the show. I was really curious for her to talk through what’s changed in fashion journalism over the years, especially when she’s transitioned from legacy media companies like New York Magazine, which is very traditional in their structure, to being at the forefront of digital media, like the work she did at BuzzFeed and now in her sub-stack.

Ian Servin: 

It’s really interesting hearing her describe all of the different opportunities she had by working at these really large media companies with lots of resources, but also the limitations that they have when they’re chasing scale and creating content designed to reach a broad audience. There are a lot of really compelling stories that they end up missing, and she’s able to cover that by being independent and running her own newsletter. She has this more direct relationship with her own audience, and she has that control over the stories and the content that she shares.

Meredith Farley: 

Yeah, absolutely agree. It was a really great conversation. Here’s our chat.

So, Amy, it was almost hard to put together the intro for you because you have accomplished so much. I am such a fan of yours. I’m very grateful that you took the time to chat with us, so thank you.

Amy Odell: 

My pleasure, thank you for saying that.

Meredith Farley: No, so to give folks who might not know you some context before we jump in. So, you started as a freelancer at New York Magazine, and then you launched its fashion blog, The Cut, which is huge, and then over your career, you also launched the fashion vertical at Buzzfeed, and you served as the digital editor at Cosmopolitan from 2013 to 2018. And then while you’re at Cosmo, you won a National Magazine Award for a 2017 package about how to run for office, and you’ve also written two really popular books, Tales from the Backrow and Outsiders View from Inside the Fashion Industry, and the recently published Anna, a biography of Anna Wintour, which is now available, and you also run the very popular Substack, Backrow.

So, you are in the spirit of content people. You are among the most content person I can think of. You’ve just done and accomplished so much. One place I’d really like to jump in is that, like, I think your career, when I was younger, when I was like 18, and trying to figure out, what do I want to do? If someone had outlined a career like yours, I would have thought, oh, that is it. But it just seems like such a, it might have seemed like a bit of a fairytale to me. And I’m really curious about if you’re giving advice to somebody new, just starting out, maybe in college, maybe just graduated, who wanted to take a similar path, and I know that the creative and editorial space is different now than it was 10 years ago, 15 years ago even. Like, what advice might you give them? What do you think some steps they could take to be ready for and or find opportunities to also build a career in kind of fashion journalism and editorial style content?

Amy Odell: 

You know, the advice that I’ve given over the years has changed. And I find I’m giving a different answer now, which is get on TikTok and establish yourself as a voice. That would really be my biggest piece of advice right now, if someone is wanting to get into fashion journalism, or maybe any kind of journalism. You know, it used to be that you would go and you would get a job as an editorial assistant. You might want to be Anna Winters assistant at Vogue. But, you know, I don’t see those jobs really getting people as nearly as far as they used to, because you used to be able to get a job like that, and you would work your way up the ladder. Well, now editors and chief are like, I don’t know, 30 years old. So there’s just not, you know, you just can’t grow as much as you used to be able to. This ceiling is lower. And so I think that it’s really important for people to do everything they can to establish their own audience, you know, whether they intend to be working in the capacity of influencers or not.

Meredith Farley: 

Wow, I think that’s so interesting that you say that. And it makes sense to me. I wanted to chat about the importance of New York, which maybe we can get to in a second, because I feel like it’s probably related. But in some ways, as you say that, I wonder if it could feel a bit like a relief to some people who want to get into that, because I know, say, 15 years ago, when I was trying to think of a path for myself. Things like fashion, New York, it felt like, it’s all, it felt like a wall of your point, like so few jobs that it was probably so hard to get, to even know the right people, to talk to, to understand what you had to do to get the jobs. And as I think of TikTok, I’m curious for your thoughts or social media or the ability to build your platform online as somewhat democratizing in that it gives more access to more people. But I don’t know, I could be wrong. What do you think about that?

Amy Odell: 

The question is, do you need to be in New York or?

Meredith Farley: 

No, I want to get to that in a second. But I think I’m curious to know, do you feel like that TikTok, for example, and the ability to build one’s own voice to have like a presence in a career in the industry gives, it makes it more, the industry more accessible in that you don’t have to find, you don’t have to, it’s just a different path where maybe if you don’t have a network or you’re not in the right spot, there’s a little more access or perhaps not.

Amy Odell: 

I think it really depends on the kind of person, you know, certain kinds of people are going to do well on TikTok, certain kinds of people are going to do well in a room meeting new people. So, you know, I think there’s value, I think there’s value to both.

Meredith Farley: 

That interesting. So maybe like, it’s important too for people to know their strengths and think if they’re like, all right, well, I’m a network or like, I connect with people, I light up around people that I need to put myself in positions to meet folks who can help my career versus someone who’s like, TikTok is just like, comes to me as naturally as breathing, like, okay, you know, go down the route that might serve you best, perhaps.

Amy Odell: 

Yeah. You know, I, gosh, I mean, with the pandemic, like so many people have been home and the fashion world, I feel has kind of roared back to life. There is a lot of in-person events. It’s always been a very social industry. There’s always parties and events that you can go to. And I used to go to them for my job. My job used to be to attend parties and red corporate events for New York Magazine and interview celebrities and prominent people at those events. And I actually met a lot of like one of my best friends today, I met doing that. I don’t know, this would have been 16 years ago. So like, there’s those kinds of connections too that are valuable in addition to meeting people, meeting people in the industry. But TikTok, you know, fashion is an insular industry. It’s one that has historically been really averse to technology. And this is something I write about in Anna the biography. Now we take for granted that runway shows are published online.

We know that if we go to Vogue Runway or open our Vogue Runway app, we’re going to see all the shows from the fashion season. And that wasn’t always the case. That has only been the case since around, I think, 1999. And Anna Winter was one of the people who went to fashion houses and said, you need to allow us to publish your runway shows online. But it’s kind of remarkable to think just how averse the industry was to that change. And I think that the industry is still, it’s embraced technology a remarkable amount since then, but it’s still rather averse to it. And I think a lot of industries are like this. I think a lot of industries don’t embrace change or they embrace it. And then they feel like, oh, I don’t know about this. And I think TikTok is very scary for fashion.

People on TikTok are very honest. If you think of the big TikTok fashion stories of the past year or even since the dawn of TikTok, it would be, one would certainly be the Chanel Advent calendar that got dragged for being a piece of crap. But costing, I forgot the exact price, it was something like $800. So that’s what fashion has to contend with on TikTok. There’s also new voices on TikTok, the same fashion influencers that we know from Instagram are not necessarily the people who are popular on TikTok. So it’s a very new world. It’s a new frontier. I can understand why brands would be afraid. But as we’ve seen in the past, the brands that get ahead of it, that embrace this change, the media outlets that embrace these platforms first, the earlier you can adapt, the better off you are.

Meredith Farley: 

No, I think that makes a lot of sense. And it’s really interesting to consider. And from the outside, when I look at your career, I feel like you’ve often been at the forefront of evolving how media is responding to and covering the fashion industry and adjacent industries a little bit, like at Cosmopolitan, for example, the growth that you achieve for their readership. And actually, there’s a quote of yours that I pulled up, which the couple sentences long, but I want to read it. And then I want to pick your brain a little bit about what you’re saying here.

So you said once, you can think of news as what’s in the New York Times today, or what’s in the Wall Street Journal, what are today’s stories? That’s a one-dimensional way to think about it. Or you can start with that and then ask, what are people saying about this over here? That’s what I learned at Buzzfeed, how to think about news in the context of the internet as opposed to just news. I try to get everyone to think about shareable content. And I thought that was so wise, so interesting, so representative, truly of the way in the last, like, 10 to 12 years, how news outlets or cover or think about content has changed. And I’m really curious to unpack that a bit with you.

Like, in your time leading up editorial teams, how did you get people to think about shareable content? And what do you think makes something very clickable? What’s your formula for getting your teams to think in that very shareable direction as opposed to just, this is the news item of the day that we much, much publish?

Amy Odell: 

Yeah, well, you know, it’s funny to even think about shareable content today. I assume if you’re asking me about it, marketers are still concerned about it. But I also feel like when I left Cosmo in 2018, early 2018, that was kind of almost even over. So, and it was shifting really to SEO, which I find to be dreadfully boring. But shareable content was historically about tapping into emotions. And, you know, it wasn’t just saying, I don’t know, unfortunately, the Kardashians are the first thing that pop into my head. Because when I think of these kinds of websites, that’s what they have for all day, so they get their clicks.

But, you know, let’s say the Kylie Jenner private jet story, you could say, you know, Kylie Jenner took a private jet flight. That was, I forget how long it was, 17 minutes or something. Or you could say Kylie Jenner took a 17-minute private jet flight and people are pissed. What are you going to click on? You know, it was really like a headline. Like when I was taking pictures from writers, you know, as an editor, if they couldn’t come up with a headline for the piece, you know, people will sit in a meeting and they’ll pitch you something. And they might, you know, talk for a long time about it and their idea. And as an editor, you have to decide, is this a story? Is this a topic? Is this something that we’re going to cover? A topic is not an article. I mean, maybe an SEO landed is because people publish explainers and update them and they get traffic that way. But, you know, I was not interested in doing a lot of explainers. I wanted, you know, really good, juicy articles.

And I would ask people, you know, what’s your, what’s the headline for this story? And if they couldn’t think of the headline, that often told me that they probably didn’t really know what the story was. And they were going to write a piece that was kind of rambling and, you know, maybe didn’t quite work as a piece. And, you know, when I write my newsletter, I often do write the headline last. But newsletter, and now we’re moving to, you know, the era of content is changing. I think shareable content is kind of over. I think for websites, it’s about SEO. And then I think for, you know, there’s a lot of newsletters now. And I think marketers really need to pay attention to this because newsletter writers like me have so, so much captive attention.

And such large audiences of people who are very interested in a specific niche and are really there with you in a way that they’re not with the mass website. And writing a newsletter headline is completely different from writing a headline that you want to perform, let’s say on Facebook. And I don’t even know if articles even perform on Facebook anymore. I know that Facebook is undergoing a lot of changes. So I think we’re really in the midst of a total shift in the content landscape, you know, from these mass, mass sites, kind of more to, you know, I mean, I don’t know what else to call them other than influencers, but kind of like journalist influencers to niche, really niche content verticals like newsletters.

Meredith Farley: 

Yeah, no, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting. I’d love to chat about your newsletter a little bit, Back Row, and then also about Anna, maybe starting with Back Row. What was the impetus for you to start it? And what, what is your process like? I’m, I love it. I click it every time I’m fascinated by it. And I’d really love to know what it’s like on the creative side for you.

Amy Odell: 

Yeah, thank you. Thank you so much for reading it. I, I started it because I guess when I became aware of sub-stack, I was in the middle of writing Anna the biography. I didn’t, I did not have time to do it, but I was interested in it because I thought I presented a really good opportunity for someone like me who, you know, like is not going to make, to be perfectly honest with you, is not going to find a fulfilling career in freelancing. And in this decade, not only because budgets at legacy publications for freelance articles tend to be so low, but also because there’s frankly, it can be a very frustrating process because you’re dealing with editors who are overworked and overtaxed and they’re not going to give you the attention that they once did. So it’s just really challenging to be a freelancer in the standage for those reasons.

And I thought that Substack presented an opportunity not only to get around the, that problem that if you’re a veteran journalist and you want to make a real salary and you want to do good work that you’re proud of and not just rate SEO explainers, you could do that on sub-stack and you could build your own audience. And I also thought for fashion, there was a huge opportunity to do this.

You know, I feel like I could have done a newsletter about pop culture or other topics, but with fashion, I felt like there was really a lack of a lack of good articles to read. I think there’s a huge audience of people out there who are who are feeling underserved as I did by the media that was out there because, you know, as I said, like legacy media, they have certain goals that they have to hit. And, you know, marketers listening to this will be aware, you know, they’re chasing scale and selling advertising online is all about scale. Well, how do you achieve scale? You publish clickbait about the Kardashians and you do boring SEO stuff and all of that. And then you mix in, you know, you have some good stuff too that you feel really proud of, but it’s all mixed in with all this, all this other stuff that you just kind of have to do.

And I think that people are really tired of it. Like, I think people know that this is how websites work and just feel fatigued by it. And they don’t, they don’t find that much stuff on legacy sites or by legacy publishers that they really take pleasure in reading. And that was the niche that I felt like I could fill with Back Row. And seeing it grow as much as it has indicates to me that I was far from the only person who felt that way. Because I do think that it’s an extraordinary act on the part of news consumers to give somebody your email address so that they can send you, in my case, it’s about two emails a week, you know, everybody’s drowning in email. So I think it’s remarkable that people are willing to do this or, you know, eager to do this so that they can get articles that they really want to read.

Meredith Farley: 

Yeah. And I think I agree. And it’s funny, you know, sometimes when I’m like, when I look at my emails, they like, I’ve got one of your newsletters in there. And then probably the other like 20 emails in my personal email are mostly like skincare companies selling me things. And there is something that I’m refreshing and empowering about knowing that you have subscribed literally and figuratively to something that is not legacy media out to sell you.

It’s just really thoughtful, interesting, and independent content. And I suppose as you’re talking about it, I don’t think I’d made the connection in my head. Maybe you don’t agree. I’m curious. But I feel like there’s something TikTok and Substacks have this kind of independent unbiased or they have the biases of the writer with the influencer or creator as opposed to the kind of mandated biases or messages of a bigger brand.

And I definitely see people responding to more authentic content in that way. What I’m interested in and slightly terrified by is the idea that certainly brands are going to try and figure out how do we harvest this independent authenticity to get the people we need to get the messages out.

Amy Odell: 

Yeah. I think, yeah. I mean, I think that you’ll probably start seeing more advertising or more sponsorships of newsletters like mine. I receive inquiries. I never expected this to be the case. I receive inquiries about branded sponsorships of my newsletter. And I don’t really know how these marketers are thinking about it, to be honest with you. But I think that they’re probably thinking about it. This is just my hunch, I’m speculating. But I suspect that they’re thinking about it the way they do sponsorships of anything else where maybe they’re looking for the massive, massive, massive reach that legacy publishers will promise their advertisers, even though these numbers are inflated and massaged.

And you can do anything with a data set. You can make numbers say anything that you want to say. And legacy publishers use that to sell these ad deals. And I think that what should happen is brands pay really for an engaged audience. I don’t think that a lot of these numbers that marketers get, I don’t think these are really engaged audiences. I think it’s quite often, because I saw this happen at places I worked, it’s quite often taking a data set and making it say what you want it to say.

But I think that with TikTok, with newsletters, you have a really engaged, a truly, truly engaged audience that is unlike the audience of many, many other places where people could be putting their ad dollars. And I think it’s going to take some time for brands to get more comfortable with that. But I think that they will and they will start to see the value in that. And I think that those marketing dollars are going to start to shift really to more individual people. And the thing is, with a Substack, someone like me does not need anywhere near the scale that any Condé Nast publication needs to be successful.

I don’t need anywhere near the size of the ad revenue that Condé Nast gets to be successful. And I’m offering something different. I’m not saying that you can even compare the two. But I think it’s going to be a really good bet for certain brands and certain marketers in the long run.

Meredith Farley: 

Yeah. And I’m curious on the creator side of it, the audience is so engaged because I think the authenticity and integrity of the work is really palpable. And I think people are also open to the idea that these creators that they want to support are doing really good work and outside of a small monthly subscription per person, they need to monetize their talent in some way.

I think there’s an expectation that I see generally happening that it’s going to be done in a thoughtful way that the person who is engaging with brands is going to be researching the brands, transparent about the brand partnership, et cetera. And in some ways, it could be a prestige for the brand to get to be aligned with these folks that their audience knows is being so careful about who they connect with. Is that were you see it going? Or what are your thoughts on-

Amy Odell: 

Yeah. And I think, and I mean, if you agree with this, but I think that there’s a fatigue with kind of- And I don’t want it to sound like I’m slamming this because I enjoy it as well. But I do think there’s maybe a bit of a fatigue with influencer culture, like as we knew it in the 2010s and as it came up on Instagram, where we had a lot of people just posting really gorgeous and often very high-quality photo editorials.

It was just that instead of using a model in a magazine, it was the same person over and over again on Instagram. But this was something that- And I say this a lot in my newsletter, like the fashion industry could get behind that. It’s like just often a very good-looking person styling beautiful photos and sharing them and tagging their brands and just saying, you know, I love this dress. I love this bag. I love these shoes. Like fashion really liked that. I think that was comfortable for fashion. But it also became something where the influencers were getting just so much free stuff and so many free press trips. And audiences are savvy to that, especially now.

And I think there may be a little bit of fatigue with that. And I think that’s why we’re kind of seeing, you know, like on TikTok, you can see that kind of content too if you want. And I enjoy that content. I don’t want it to seem like I don’t. And I have respect for what these influencers create. But I also think that this is why, you know, Chanel advent calendar, TikTok girl, her name is Elise Harmon, like she can gain such a following because she did something different. I think this is a person who enjoys luxury brands, who clearly was a fan enough of Chanel to buy this item. And then, you know, had no reason not to just say what she thought about it. And people really responded to that honesty, because it is something that is so hard to find, particularly in fashion media.

Meredith Farley: 

Yeah. I wonder, I think, if brands are going to have to become, if they’re going to be working with influencers or creators of some kind, who are building up a truly engaged and authentic audience, if brands are going to have to be comfortable with the idea of maybe getting dragged every now and then. Or, you know.

Amy Odell: 

I see brands getting, yeah, I have to say, I see brands getting dragged every day on TikTok. And I think that’s something like that would probably kind of freak me out if I were working in the comms department of a certain brand. But I think that, you know, it’s funny because, like, the work of journalism is to hold power to account. And we just see that manifesting in so many different ways now. And I think when you see someone on TikTok dragging Chanel, or I saw someone dragging a luxury shoe brand the other day, and the video had about a million views on it, like, I think when you see that, that’s another way of the audience or a content creator holding a brand or a person in a position of power to account.

Meredith Farley: 

Yeah. All right, well, I know you’ve touched on it a little bit in, like, speaking of the fashion industry. Your book, Anna, The Biography, I would love to, I’d love to hear, I’m so curious about it. I’ve got it. I haven’t started it yet. Or I pre-ordered it on my Kindle rather. And I really, and one of you could kind of tell folks who might not be familiar, like, a little bit about it.

And then I know that it was just so, so thoroughly researched. I really was loved to hear what the research process was like. And also, kind of, I think of her as such a, she’s such a prominent, but somewhat mysterious, though incredibly influential and powerful figure in the fashion industry. I was wondering, also, if you can talk a little bit about what it was like to try and tackle that in a book and if there is any intimidation factor there for you too.

Amy Odell: 

Yeah, so let’s see. So the book, you know, I really felt like the opportunity with the book was to talk about Anna as a woman in an extraordinary position of power, who has had extraordinary longevity. If you think of business leaders, just in general, of the past 50 years, there are not many who have achieved what she has achieved over the length of time that she has been in power.

People I interviewed believe that her cultural innovation was on par with that of Steve Jobs. And gosh, I don’t know how long Steve Jobs ran Apple, but if you look at Jeff Bezos, he ran Amazon for 27 years and then stepped back. Anna Winter has been editor-in-chief of Vogue for 34. And despite being in this position, this public position for so, so long, she still, as you said, remains an enigma even to people who are close to her and who have known her for a very long time. And Anna the biography is really about revealing her as a human being and also explaining what her secrets to success have been over the course of her career.

Meredith Farley: 

I know that it seemed well from what I’ve read about it. You have done a ton of research around documentation. And also, you talk to so many people as part of this. How long did it take you to write this? And what was the general approach you took to researching the book?

Amy Odell: 

I interviewed more than 250 people to write the book. It was the process that took about three years, including the reporting, the writing, the editing, fact-checking, all of those things that go into it. And in the beginning, it was really hard. Most people were afraid to talk about her. And I knew this was going to be a challenge. So I had to figure out, while I’m not getting interviews, I have a contract to write this book. What do I do?

So I decided to go back to the very beginning of her life. She’s in her 70s. So this is a lot of years to cover. So go back to the beginning of her life and work my way forward, thinking that the people who knew Anna when she was a teenager or younger would have more distance from her today and perhaps feel more comfortable talking about her. And that did prove to be a successful strategy. So I was able to start getting interviews.

And I went about it without approaching her team because you don’t want to give your subject an opportunity to tell people not to talk to you and meddle in your work. And they did, of course, find out that I was working on this. And by that time, I had been at it for, I think it was a year, two and a half, and I had interviewed somewhere between 100 and 150 people. And the response from her office was, she didn’t want to be interviewed.

She’s not someone who likes to talk about herself. She’s also not someone who likes to have long meetings. So it would be out of character for her to sit down for a very long time and talk about her life and her career. So she unsurprisingly declined an interview, but her rep offered to set me up with her closest friends and colleagues for interviews. They sent over a list of names that included people like Tom Ford and Tori Burch and Serena Williams, who the average person has heard of, and then other people who are close to Anna who might be lesser known.

There were other people who I had a very strong suspicion would not talk to me without clearing it with Anna. So before I approached them, I asked her rep, would Anna sanction these? And they ended up saying that everyone I wanted to talk to was perfectly fine. So there was some help behind the scenes from them. And when that happened, access to other people came a lot easier, particularly people who had said no or hung up the phone on me before. I was able to go back to them and said, you know, I know you were hesitant about talking to me, but it has been helping me with the book and I’m hoping that you would reconsider. And I did turn some nos into yeses towards them.

Meredith Farley: 

I’m really curious about those conversations, I’d imagine that, you know, you’re talking to you’re talking to a person who is like a friend or close with the subject. And is it as a journalist, how do you approach those conversations?

One, I’m sure you’re thankful for their time. You want to be respectful that what they’re communicating to you is how they feel for the most part. But I’d imagine sometimes you’re also maybe reading between the lines or curious to push a little more on a particular subject like how do you just what is the approach to that type of meeting? Are you trying to get like specific details or are you trying to get a feeling and a sense of what direction to pursue next? Or both.

Amy Odell: 

I guess it’s everything. I mean, when you doing interviews for a biography was unlike anything I had ever done with where I have to say, because you’re asking people like the way I explain to people is if I asked you what happened to you this morning, like how many details could you give me about your morning? If I asked you about a conversation you had with a colleague yesterday, how many details could you give me about that? If I asked you about something last week, your memory would be even fuzzier. If I asked you about something that happened 60 years ago, it would be, of course, much, much, much harder for you. So you’re dealing with the human memory in a way that you don’t really have to in other journalism.

And that is tricky and it requires a lot of patience. It requires being unafraid to ask people the same questions and being unafraid to come back to people. Because probably if I had a conversation with you right now about yesterday morning, you would remember some things and then you would leave, you would hang up the phone and you would go about your day and then you would remember other things that you could have told me. So you have to make sure that you’re calling people back and giving them the opportunity to tell you the things that they remembered because usually the person is not going to come back to you and say, oh, I remembered things.

I had some people do that, but they were in the minority. So there was that. But then you also, you have to prepare so much in order to get people to remember things. You have to read as much as you can about the person and their relationship with Anna. And when you’re dealing with a prominent person, like say Grace Coddington, she’s written a memoir, she has other books, she has a vast portfolio of work that you can look at and pick out things to ask about that might be interesting. And that’s not the case with everybody, but there were certain questions and you find there are certain questions that will always get you good answers and certain questions that will never get you good answers.

So when you’re interviewing people, you abandon the bad questions and you keep asking the good question. One question that ended up being particularly good was, what are Anna’s pet peas? A lot of people I asked that question to, could think of some pet peas. Like one person said, oh, she hate, and I’ve heard this from a number of people, she hates chewing gum. So if you’re around Anna, you don’t want to be chewing gum, that drives her crazy. She used to hate polka dots. She hates orchids.

Like people could think of things in response to that question. I can’t even remember a question. I ask people like always, because you want specific conversations, you want as much detail as possible. So you’d ask people, what was this conversation like, or what did she say about that? And Anna just doesn’t talk about a lot of stuff. So a lot of those questions didn’t get me that much, but that still is revealing to understand that like, okay, something happened that seems to the outside world to be a big deal. And Anna never talked about it with anyone who was close to her. That reveals something about her.

Meredith Farley: 

Yeah, no, that sounds incredibly interesting. And 250 interviews, that’s an immense amount of work. I’m really excited to read the book. And I know we’re coming up on time, but Amy, I feel like I could pick your brain for hours. I’m so grateful for all the everything that you shared. If folks want to follow you on Substack or socials or follow your work, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you? And we’ll throw all these things into our show notes.

Amy Odell: 

Yeah, so the best way for people to keep up with my work and what I’m doing is to follow me on Substack at And I have all my socials linked in my Substack. I’m on TikTok at amyodellwriter. And I’m on Instagram as well. So those are the main places where I am, but I would love for people to follow me on Substack at

Meredith Farley: 

All right, we’ll get it in there. And Amy, thank you again. I learned some great things from you, and I’m so appreciative. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Thanks for listening to our chat with Amy. Next week, we’ll be talking with Brianna de L’airre, a coaching enablement manager at Wayfair.

And we’ll make a few little plugs here. To support the show, you can rate, review, and subscribe. Those things make a big difference, and we really appreciate it. And if you like this conversation, you might like my fledgling newsletter, also called Content People. We’ll throw a link in the show notes, and you can subscribe if you’re interested.

Ian Servin:

And if you’d like another newsletter to subscribe to, consider Brafton’s. We have almost 100,000 marketers who subscribe to our newsletter and get a lot of really great content. Check it out in the link in the show notes.

Meredith Farley:

Thanks so much for listening. And if you want to get in touch, you can email us at