Backus Wright is the Editorial Director of Sunset
Custom Publishing. During our interview, she shared
ideas about creativity, problem-solving, communication,
transcripts, character, labeling, and more.
As Editorial Director, what are your main responsibilities?
Our department creates six main magazines. I oversee
the creation of the editorial (the content and the
stories) for those magazines. I also work with the
Business Development Director to get new clients.
What do you like about your job?
It's very creative. Every project is different. I
enjoy problem-solving. All the clients have reasons
why they want a magazine: they want to convey a certain
message to their customers. Our job is to convey their
message in a compelling way so that people will want
to read the magazine. Since I enjoy reading magazines,
it's fun to think about what makes a good story for
me, which in turn helps guide what we may create for
others. I also like working with the people in our
department; they're a great group of people.
The publishing industry is both a creative and
a commercial environment -- trying to sell an appealing
product to an audience. How do you reconcile these
two different aspects?
In our business, there's a reader and there's a client,
so we're trying to use our creativity to get across
a message. It takes creativity to produce something
wonderful within given parameters. Sometimes with
our food magazine, we'll have a non-descript food,
such as a root vegetable. The photographers will find
something wonderful about the food and create an amazing
picture. They're able to see the root with an eye
that most people don't use. I took a photo composition
class in college. One of our first assignments was
to take a photograph of something that on first glance
was ugly, but upon closer inspection was beautiful
-- like a glob of oil or peeling paint. That's part
You mentioned problem-solving. What types of challenges
do you confront in your field? Sometimes after
we've started working, clients want to change direction
or send a different message. We have to incorporate
their needs. There are also logistical challenges
with writers who don't meet deadlines or are difficult
to contact. It's important to understand how to communicate
and work with different types of people to get the
best out of each person, whether or not they are independent
contractors or part of our staff. I end up doing a
lot of mentoring, which I enjoy. Often editors will
walk into my office, explain a sticky situation, and
ask for help. We'll talk through possible solutions
together. Each situation and each day is different.
You talked about communication and its importance
in your work. What helps you communicate effectively?
Does inspiration play a role?
Inspiration absolutely plays a role. In general, I
just want to be straightforward, clear, and communicate
with respect. It seems that the things that I pray
about most are people-related. Every once in a while,
there will be an issue that's more charged. Recently,
I needed someone to do something that I knew he wouldn't
want to do. After trying to find different ways to
get the work done without involving him, I was convinced
that having him carry out the task was the best answer.
I prayed. I prayed to understand that the Christ was
speaking to both of us and that I didn't have to convince
him that something was right. Rather, both of us would
be able to hear the right answer. Trying to put my
thoughts together before I met with him, the story
of Moses came to me. Moses felt inadequate as a communicator.
He didn't know if he could convince the children of
Israel that God had sent him to lead them out of captivity
And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not
eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast
spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech,
and of a slow tongue. And the Lord said unto him,
Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb,
or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I
the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy
mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say. Ex.
The concept that God would teach me what to say and
give me the words I needed was very helpful. I knew
that my motive was right and that I wanted to communicate
with love and respect. It turned out to be a good
conversation that even included humor.
What other Bible passages or stories have been
helpful to you?
I will put my law in their inward parts, and write
it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they
shall be my people. And they shall teach no more
every man his neighbour, and every man his brother,
saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me,
from the least of them unto the greatest of them,
saith the Lord:
Jer. 31:33, 34
On one hand, this passage is about communication
with others, and on the other hand, it's about knowing
God: "Be still, and know that I am God"
(Ps. 46:10). When there's a challenge or an issue,
it's important to quiet all the demands and noise
around you and recognize that God's law is at your
core. As a result, you hear God talking to you. Of
course, God has always been talking to us; sometimes
we just can't hear because of the noise.
Another passage that I've used a lot is:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean
not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways
acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Prov. 3:5, 6
Earlier in my career, I was frustrated that I wasn't
getting the opportunity to have more responsibility
and to progress. This passage helped me realize that
I wasn't dependent upon my boss or my boss's boss
to give me what I wanted. And now, having worked really
hard and having advanced in my career, it's still
important not to be egotistical, but rather to be
humble and realize that God is still directing me
in every decision.
What would you tell teens about a career in publishing
or about life in general?
First, I'd like to tell them something about the working
world in general. I don't think young adults realize
exactly how valuable it is to be a hard worker who
is respectful, smart, sharp, and follows through on
completing tasks or keeping people updated. It seems
so simple, but not everyone exhibits these qualities.
Follow-through is so important. If you say you'll
get something done before you leave, you do so; and
if you can't, you tell someone how far you got and
explain the situation.
I'd also like young adults to realize that they shouldn't
let the desire to make their resume or transcript
look good drive them. When I was in high school, I
was doing extra activities just to put them on my
transcript. When I got to college, I realized I just
wanted to be there. I wanted to do what meant something
to me. I often didn't do all the "extras."
It's important not to clutter up life with things
that really don't matter to you.
And, when I was first out of college and just starting
my career, it was hard for me to see that I was ever
going to get anywhere. Believing in your own God-given
goodness and value is really important. When you have
such trust, good things will happen. You have to be
careful not to get stuck thinking that you're just
spinning your wheels.
How did you get unstuck?
I prayed that my future was not in the hands of other
human beings, that I was not at their mercy to help
me or stand in my way. Rather, my future was in God's
hands. Once I understood this, I was open to taking
the next step.
That reminds me of Joseph. He was in a pit and
could have easily been frustrated, but he knew that
his future was in God's hands.
Yes. And what a switch it was when he had the really
great role -- being the first in command next to Pharaoh
-- and was gracious and helped his brothers.
This to me sounds like what you were talking about
earlier -- being gracious and humble about your progress
in your career.
I am so grateful to those who believed in me and gave
me opportunities, gave me responsibility, and trusted
that I would do a good job. And so I do everything
that I can to help give others opportunities to succeed.
It sounds like you have a
good working environment. What creates that?
This is one of the neat things about where I work.
In our department when we hire people, although we're
looking for people with the appropriate experience,
we're more interested in the person's character and
work ethic. The intangibles will make us hire someone.
You can teach the particulars, but you need someone
who wants to learn, who is trustworthy, and who is
willing to do things the way that they need to be
done. You need the so-called "fluffy" qualities
that are really the bedrock of a successful individual,
team, and company. When you're working on a stressful
project and working late, you want to work with someone
who has stellar life qualities. It's not just how
fabulous the person's resume is.
Another thing I'd like to tell teens is not to pigeon-hole
themselves. After I had been working in production
for awhile, I felt that I was kind of pigeon-holed
into a certain type of work. There was a general perception
that production people could not be creative people
like the writers and editors. I bought into that stereotype.
I started thinking of myself as a good organizer or
a good detail-oriented person, but not as creative.
How did you break free from this label?
It was when the first custom publishing job came along.
Anyone who wanted to work on the custom job had to
do so on the side. At first, I started helping by
doing production work for the project. After awhile,
I volunteered to do some editing. I had to crack open
the shell of limitation that I had created. I had
to wake up that creative part of me. After that, I
started volunteering for other projects that were
creative. It was from showing that I could do those
things that I was eventually offered an editorial
job as the new custom publishing department started
to grow. Had I kept limiting myself by seeing myself
a certain way, believing in the label, and not expecting
very much of myself, I wouldn't be where I am today.
What enabled you to stop believing in the label
that you weren't creative?
There was a conversation I had with someone else who
was in a similar situation and who recognized her
interest in doing creative things. I realized that
I wanted to do creative things. So we discussed the
next possible steps. And once I realized that I didn't
have to accept such a label, creativity seemed so
natural. I was God's child, and the inherent goodness
and creativity just shone through.
Based on this experience, what would you tell
teens to help them break free from labels?
In some ways it's as simple as, "Just do it."
I had a "Wow, I can do that!" moment. It
was a reminder of everyone's inherent goodness and
infinite possibilities. I think we put up barricades
for ourselves, whether we know it or not. And we're
the only ones who can take them back down. If we're
waiting for someone else to take down the walls, we'll
be pinned in by them. When we think of the problem
or obstacle as "out there," we set a trap
for ourselves. Yet, as God's children, we have the
power to rip down those walls. But if we think we
can tear down walls by will-power alone, without God's
help, then we'll be struggling in vain.
That reminds me of Jesus' words: "With men
this is impossible; but with God all things are possible"
That's a good one.
How often during the day do you turn to God?
I think I'd like to answer that in the opposite way
in which you asked it. When I am troubled or out of
whack, it suddenly hits me that what's bothering me
is that I am not feeling close to God. This is a wake-up
call for me to drop the burdens, stop feeling responsible
for everything, and get close to God again. When I
see who God is and know that I'm God's child, any
sense of heaviness or confusion drops away, and I
get very clear. I work continually to maintain a clear
connection with God.
Any last thoughts to share?
A very practical step for people who are interested
in a certain career is to do an internship or volunteer
in that field to learn about it. When you do this,
you become aware of many more possibilities.