Lauren Wise is a writing and editing machine, as a freelance writer for publications around the country, and as founder of her own Midnight Publishing, which provides editing, self-publishing and ghostwriting services for authors and businesses. The 30-year-old Tempe resident has helped edit more than 30 books, aiming to create industry experts with the power of the pen.
Wise is also a huge heavy metal fan and works with HeavyMetalTelevision.com as a host and record label contact. She shared why she’s passionate about writing and helping others hone their skills, as well as shared her most memorable moments as a journalist. You can also watch her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.
What brought you to Arizona?
I moved here when I was 15 and went to Saguaro High School before attending ASU and getting my degree in journalism. My parents relocated, so I had to go with them. I was born in Hinsdale, Illinois, a little bit out of Chicago.
I spent my childhood all over South Florida and my early teenage years in Kansas. My dad designs golf courses, so that is why we moved so often — you go where the work is. Arizona is a perfect place for that, and the projects here he worked on include Grayhawk, Mirabel, Estancia and Whisper Rock.
What’s your first memory of being interested in writing and editing?
I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve always been really good at writing and editing and have been really passionate about it. When I was a little kid, I’d write mini-books and hole-punch them and put yarn in them to make little books. I’ve always been interested in it.
In high school, I’d write for our papers, and in college, I interned at a ton of magazines for free to get that experience. I’m really lucky I’m able to do what I love and utilize my degree.
How did you start Midnight Publishing?
I started Midnight Publishing about seven years ago after graduating from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, right when the publishing industry took a big downturn. I began it as an umbrella to look more professional while offering writing and editing services.
Then, I got a surprise offer from Morris visitor publications, a company that began almost 80 years ago in Detroit, publishing visitor publications as a resource for auto industry executives to know where to eat, stay and visit while in town. It expanded to dozens of markets over the years, and I was hired as a full-time editor at Where Phoenix + Scottsdale magazine. I was only spending about 15 hours a week on my own company.
In March 2013, I left Where magazine to focus on my company full time, because I was getting a lot of clients. The past two years, I’ve been running Midnight Publishing, helping authors and businesses write, edit and publish influential messages and content, and freelancing for Phoenix New Times, PHOENIX Magazine, Arizona Bride, Runway magazine, LA Weekly, and a couple other national publications, like Boxx magazine in Chicago and Texas Meetings + Events Magazine. I really enjoy freelance writing, and I mostly focus on music, travel, fashion and culinary subjects.
What’s your typical week like with Midnight Publishing?
At any given time, I have six to 10 clients that usually have to do with book editing or self-publishing consultations. I pretty much split my time editing books, mostly nonfiction, and providing self-publishing consultations. I’ll meet with a client, and depending on their budget, audience and a bunch of other factors, I’ll help them pick the best self-publishing outlet for them, because there are so many out there right now. Then, I’ll walk them through the process or do it for them.
I work on my freelance articles and on everything that goes into running a business, doing work on the company, rather than in it. I contract out marketing and have a virtual assistant/social media person, and when I get too much work, I contract it out to editors and writers I have on the side.
What’s your vision for the company, and what are your goals?
In the beginning, I was working on fiction and nonfiction books, and I sort of gravitated towards working in the nonfiction genre. For 2015, I’m definitely focused on helping experts gain more authority in their fields by publishing books or guides.
I’ve been working with a lot of professionals who are seen as experts in the field — or trying to get to that point — or high-profile figures in society who are telling their story to share a message. Adding “author” to their resume definitely establishes them more as an expert.
Examples include doctors writing about cutting edge medical procedures; the director of the Mesa Firefighters Association, writing about labor relations for firefighters; CIA consultant leaders writing leadership books; meditation or yoga experts writing memoirs or creative nonfiction; a model and inspirational speaker writing a book for domestic violence survivors; and even a cautionary tale book by a former Mafia leader that targets at-risk kids, to show them just because they grow up in a bad environment doesn’t mean they have to become a part of it.
Eventually, I’d like to be able to have some employees who take care of that and put more work into running the company and continue to write and edit when I want to. We’re headed in that direction of wanting to help nonfiction writers get out there and build their own brand through publishing.
Why do you think self-publishing is so important for professionals?
In the past five years or so, I think our society has become much more entrepreneurial and driven by people creating careers out of their own talents and passions. There are so many different ways to branch out there. I’m working right now with Dr. Ted Diethrich, who is a pioneer in the treatment of heart disease, and the founder of the Arizona Heart Association. He did the first open heart surgery on camera back in 1983. I’m helping him edit and publish his memoir. It’s getting your story out there to either help people with their challenges, or, if you’re an expert at something, getting your story out there to help people solve a problem.
Positioning yourself as an expert when you’re an entrepreneur or trying to build your own brand is really important for your overall career, especially if you’re doing it on your own. If people are trying to build their own brand — whether you’re an expert in carpet cleaning, or beauty products, or writing and editing — trying to establish that brand is about getting people to look at you as an expert. The end game is if people Google products or services you offer, you want your name to come up.
Once you decide how to establish your brand, whether it’s through creating videos, a guide or a how-to book, it’s important to contact a professional who can help you create those things.
Midnight Publishing also offers ghostwriting services, because sometimes people want to write a book or create new content for their company, but they just really don’t know where to start. Basically, they’ll create an outline, and I’ll help them write it all from start to finish.
Other times, they’ll have something roughly written, and I’ll edit it and help them bring it up to that next level professionally. I’ll work on any type of content someone brings to me, because it’s all a challenge to me, too. Making their business look better and bringing in new clients and making them feel good about their brand makes me feel good. I always put 100 percent into that.
Why are you passionate about writing and editing?
I was a huge bookworm growing up. I’ve always been kind of a nerd, and when I was in Kansas, I would climb a lot of trees and read books up there. I’ve always been really connected to reading. If you read a really good book, whether it’s fiction that transports you to another place, or nonfiction where you can really relate to the story, it’s really good for people to experience that. It’s like music, which can transport you different places.
It’s that connection to reading for me. I want to share that with other people and help people create books and get them out there.
With people’s short attention spans these days, why do you think reading is still important?
You learn so much from reading. It’s really scary when you think about how many people don’t like to read, even in our generation and the one after that. It’s scary because you wonder if there’s any hope for that.
I’ve had a lot of people also ask me if I think publishing will ever become obsolete, with e-books and e-readers. I think reading will always be an important part of our society, because that’s how people learn about things, become familiar with different experiences, and learn about other cultures. It opens you up.
If you’re opposed to reading, you’re going to live a very boxed-in life, I think. Books aren’t going to disappear. I just think the way people are consuming that information is changing.
I think that relates to blogging. I’ll tell my clients, if you’re an expert who has been blogging, you can take that content, put it into different chapters, and create a book right there.
What writing tips do you have for people?
I think the most important one, especially if you want to write a book, is to just sit down and write. I think that’s the biggest problem people have, is they continue to put it on the backburner. They keep saying, “Oh, I’m going to write that book,” and 10 years later, it still hasn’t happened, because they never actually put time in their schedule to do it. It’s like anything else, like working out. Writing can be really frustrating, but once you create a habit of it, it becomes a lot easier.
However, if you are self-publishing something, you definitely need to have a professional editor look over it. Self-publishing has made it easy to publish anything. Unfortunately, the downside to that is an influx of poorly constructed content. If you publish content that is riddled with typos and grammatical errors, or that isn’t professionally polished, you lose all credibility with your reader. No one remembers when anything is done completely right, but the second they see a mistake, they’ll remember it.
If you’re serious about your project, you need to make the investment to get it formatted and edited in order to look good.
Why are your services worth investing in?
The one thing I’ve had a lot of clients say when they give me testimonials is that I could really understand their voice. A good editor needs to get everything technically correct – grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure – but it’s just as important for an editor to understand your voice, and to have the ability to enhance your voice so it’s still you. I’ve seen that problem before quite often, where an editor will completely change the voice of the writer, and then the writer is unhappy with it. That’s really important to me for my company, to keep the author’s voice, while making it polished.
I also value being there for the author, one on one, and to make sure they’re always happy. There are so many sources where they’re outsourcing editing overseas, where they’re still not very cheap, but you never know who is actually editing your book. Those companies also don’t take the time to read the book beforehand and offer an honest opinion on if it is something that’s marketable.
As a journalist, what’s your most memorable interview you’ve done?
I really enjoy interviewing Alice Cooper. He’s always awesome to interview, because he’s always honest and really easy to talk to. Plus, since he’s a Phoenix resident, we can discuss the local music scene and events. I’ve been able to interview him a few times, and every time we talk, there’s something new to discover about him and his life and his story.
I’d say another interview I really loved doing was, when I worked at Where magazine, I had to interview a local pilot named Mark Tillman, and he was the pilot for Air Force One when 9/11 happened. That really made a big impact on me, because he was talking about how he was flying President George W. Bush around, and all this was happening with the terrorist attacks, and they had no idea if someone was coming after Air Force One. They had to put down all their communication services so they couldn’t be tracked, and they didn’t know what was happening on the ground, or if there was a plane coming up on them to crash into them. Everyone’s lives on board that flight was in his hands.
What are your tips for interviewing people?
Definitely be prepared, and do your research. One of my goals is to always ask a question in an interview that really makes the person think, where they say, “That’s a good question,” or, “I haven’t been asked that before.” So many people I’ve had the opportunity to interview have done it so many times before. I might be their eighth interview of the day, and in my mind, I think that must be so annoying for them. They’re happy to get the coverage, but they’re also just jaded by it. It’s important to make an impact with your questions and get something new for a reader to enjoy that’s not going to just be generic.
What are your writing goals?
I have probably too many ideas. I have an idea to have all my blogs I’ve done for Phoenix New Times and all my other publications and put those into a book about women in heavy metal.
I’m also currently working on an editing guide, because another thing I strive for is to make my clients better writers for their future projects. If your goal is to make someone become better at their own craft, they’re going to come back and work with you again, because they know you actually care. They’re going to learn something from you, too. I’m aiming to finish it by summer.
Why is heavy metal a genre you’re so passionate about?
I competed in a lot of piano competitions when I was younger, for about 10 years, and classical music led me to rock music, studying similar compositions. I really love the guitar and keyboards, so I started listening to a lot of instrumental music, and the heavier it was, even with no vocals, I just loved it when I was younger. I was 12 when I started going through my older brother’s CDs and came upon Metallica and Green Day, which led me to Pantera and several other heavy metal bands.
I also can really appreciate the skill that goes behind making some of that music, and I like how heavy metal is a really honest genre. It tends to make people uncomfortable, which is why that genre has always kind of gotten a bad rap, among other things. It always celebrates the underdog, too, which is why I gravitate towards that. I think it’s important to recognize people for what they can do and who they are.
Why would you encourage people to check out HeavyMetalTelevision.com?
It’s pretty awesome, because it’s the first completely free, 24-seven music video channel. You don’t have to give any information to be a part of it. You just go to HeavyMetalTelevision.com, and there are a bunch of videos.
It’s a really unique concept. It’s going back to the days of MTV when they actually played music videos and had really unique VJ segments and interviews. If you’re a fan of heavy metal, they play all types of genres. You can look at the schedule on their Facebook page and see when they play the genre you like.
How would you characterize the local music scene?
I love the local music scene. I think the diversity is what’s really awesome, because you have so much influence from different cultures in it.
I think what we need to improve on is, like every local music scene, musicians have to support each other a little bit more. They always ask for people to support them, but they don’t always give that support back to other people. However, that’s getting better.
I know it’s difficult, because people are barely scraping by, doing these shows for very little money, but I think sometimes people feel a little bit entitled since they’re putting so much out there.
Who’s your favorite local band?
I really love the band Mergence. I discovered them probably five or six years ago, and they’re so good live and super-talented. They’re kind of a mix between The Black Keys and Led Zeppelin. They have that great sound, like if you put in that old record you found in an attic.
What are the most beneficial and challenging aspects to owning your own business?
The most beneficial things are to be able to do what you love, make your own hours, and create a business out of your own concept. You’re trying to put out a positive message to society.
The challenges are having to juggle everything on your own and learn a lot as you go. I think sometimes it can be hard to know when to stop working. I’ll end up working until one in the morning, even though I’ve been working since eight in the morning, and then the next day, I’ll end up sleeping in until 10 and wake up panicked half the day is over.
It can be hard to recognize when you need to delegate certain tasks. When do you hit that point when you need to start hiring people? When do you hit that point when you need an accountant? When do you hit that point when you need a new website design? That can all be a challenge, but it’s exciting, too.
What time management tips do you have?
I have to use timers. I have software on my computer that helps me delegate my time. I’ll look at emails for a half-hour right when I get up, and I have to set a timer, otherwise, I’ll do emails for two-and-a-half hours. When that timer goes off, I’ll work on a book for two-and-a-half hours. It might be a little extreme for some people, but that’s how I manage my time.
What’s your favorite book you’ve read?
My favorite book is Stephen King’s The Stand. It’s just an awesome story. It was so ahead of the fiction genre’s time, I feel like. He wrote it in the late ‘70s, and the story is just still so fascinating to me today.
It’s a thriller about the apocalypse; about the battle between good and evil. The apocalypse starts when a weaponized strain of influenza gets out of a government facility. There are only a handful of people in the world who survived it, but it was all part of a divine plan of good against evil. It’s a really awesome story, but it’s a really long book.
What advice would you have for aspiring business owners?
I think if you have a dream to do something, and it makes sense for the market, you should just jump right into it. If you have a job you’re enjoying, and you can start this business on the side and slowly build it, definitely do it. I think in our culture now, people have to take their futures into their own hands.
What tips do you have for getting clients?
People have to network more than they realize. I do very little paid advertising, but I try to go to a couple of networking events a month. You really have to put yourself out there, which can be hard for people who are introverted. It was difficult for me in the beginning – I read a book my dad gave me called Networking for People Who Hate Networking, and it was a really good book that helped me a lot.
You need to put yourself out there and know how to present your service or product in a way a lot of people can relate to. If someone tells me they want to redesign their website, I’ll tell them I can write or edit website content. If someone tells me they’re trying to get a guide out on how to put together a new vacuum cleaner they’ve created, I tell them I can help. It’s trying to adapt what you can do to a lot of different problems people have.
What tips do you have for networking?
You have to feel confident in what you know you have to offer. It takes time, but just take a deep breath and be confident in what you know you can do.
Learn about other Valley writers:
Learn more about Four Chambers literary magazine founder Jake Friedman here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about The World Needs Hope author Sara McClellan here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about The Arizona Republic reporter Beth Duckett here on Phoenix People.