The Lady, The Legend: An Interview with Amy Guth

Amy GuthAmy Guth has always known she was destined to be a writer. As general manager of the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye and Metromix, late-night talk show host of “RedEye Remix” at WGN Radio, author of the novel Three Fallen Women, and avid social media user, Guth has truly done it all. Prior to her current roles, Guth has been published in two anthologies, founded Chicago’s Fixx Reading Series, co-written sketches at Second City’s training center and was the digital editor for the Tribune’s book section. She has spoken at colleges and universities on her experiences involving publishing, writing, book promotion, and social media. One of the most influential women in Chicago media, Amy Guth took the time to discuss with the Publishing Lab her writing processes and experiences, the art of social media, and more.


Shelby Curran: What was the source of inspiration for your novel Three Fallen Women?

Amy Guth: I tend to write my best fiction when I’m curious about something. In the case of Three Fallen Women, I was acquainted with a woman who absolutely could not enforce her personal boundaries and kept getting into positively awful situations and allowing so much “drama” into her life. It was awful, but compelling— right? The writer in us sometimes just wants to see what happens next— so I started writing about it. I never pre-plan or outline when writing fiction. I really just follow the story along. Anyway, that’s where it led.


SC: What do you enjoy about working for The Tribune? What are the challenges?

AG: I feel like I have a front row seat to history at a fascinatingly transformational time in the industry and, hokey as it may sound, still get a thrill out of walking into this iconic building everyday. It’s hard not to think about all the impactful work and major moments that have happened here all these years.

The challenge for me is balancing my entrepreneurial and DIY mentality with a corporate structure. I believe deeply in action and the power of starting; it’s difficult to maintain the momentum and enthusiasm of a great idea if forty-eight meetings and ninety power points are needed beforehand. It’s important to have clear communication and organizational buy-in and support, but it’s also important to act on big ideas before they die on the vine.


SC: How do you compare radio talk shows to written work? Do you favor one over the other?

AG: Oh, night and day! I like to write and edit so I’m saying just the thing I want to say in just the way I want to say it and I love being edited to make the work even stronger by a fresh set of eyes. With broadcast, you get one shot to say it right and one shot not to shoot yourself in the foot. But it’s a nice balance. Writing is contemplative whereas live broadcast keeps me on my toes and rolling with the punches.


SC: What is your process like for creative writing, radio broadcasting, and other art forms? How did they differ?

AG: For fiction, I just sit and write and let it pour out without stopping. For non-fiction and reporting, I outline everything, allow myself tangents, get it all down on the page and then edit myself. For broadcast, there is a lot of preparation that goes in beforehand. I like to outline the show with my awesome producer, Kate Gibson, so we have a basic map of what we’ll talk about at what time. I will have a few interesting articles or data points or case studies printed and nearby so I can reference them. For interviews, I come in prepared with some questions I want to be sure to ask, but the key is to really listen and be open to jumping on an interesting answer with a follow up question.


SC: In your opinion, what is the most important thing about book promotion?

AG: Admittedly, I don’t have much patience for writers who modestly joke they can’t be bothered to use social media because they have nothing to say or they struggle with self-promotion. First, if you don’t believe in your work, nobody else will either. Secondly, there is a simple formula in two parts: Part one— open your mind and learn a little. Most of the social media resistance I see is from some people who have never actually tried to use it, but anecdotally think it is one thing or another. Just look around, explore, listen and learn. Part two: use the rule of thirds and nobody will ever accuse you of being a soul-less shill. The rule of thirds breaks down like this: one third of the time, share your stuff, another third of the time, share stories about your areas of expertise or interest but originated from elsewhere (this helps show your expertise) and the other third of the time be a human being by asking and answering questions, re-tweeting and re-posting things you found compelling, etc.

Also, it’s a big problem to me when writers maintain two different personas on social media— usually under the guise of a personal account and a professional account, which is usually the book title. Here’s why: To maintain two accounts presents two issues: first, this makes both accounts inherently distrustful— you are, by virtue of doing this, showcasing that you are intentionally not being genuine in either account. Secondly, it’s the social part of social media that makes it work, so the idea of following a book is shortsighted at best.

The best course of action is to maintain one set of accounts and decide up front where the line of privacy is for personal and professional info and stick to that and build your brand. Build a strong social account around your good name and reputation and you can take it with you for the rest of your career, book after book. At the end of the day, it’s a return to the very old fashioned idea of a person-to-person business model. Remember that and connect genuinely. Don’t get caught up on touting your book— that’ll get you unfollowed. Just be you, connect and the support will come when you need it.


SC: As an avid social media user, which app or site is your favorite and why? What do young professionals need to know about social media?

AG: I love Twitter. Instagram is a close second. Twitter has done amazing things for me: I got recruited by the Tribune thanks to Twitter. I’ve made friends around the world, some I’ve met in real life and can’t imagine not knowing now. I’ve crowd-sourced part of a book tour, I’ve bonded with fellow insomniacs, I’ve gotten news out fast, and so on.

Twitter is also a powerful tool on a powerful domain and used with a degree of mindfulness toward Search Engine Optimization, it can be really effective with helping to manage expertise around topics in search results.

As for young professionals, Id’ say this: the only thing worse than using social media badly is not using it enough. I straight up won’t hire anyone who doesn’t use social media. Period. After that, I’d encourage them to take it seriously as a branding tool to take with them their whole career. Which is not to say don’t be a social human being, but don’t be afraid to be human and a professional. Put another way: I don’t care if you post a photo of yourself doing a shot of tequila, but I do care if you never show your professional expertise, efforts, projects, etc.


SC: You not only advocate for the digital media community, but also for women in the field. Tell us about your involvement with the Association for Women Journalists. Why is this so important to you?

AG: I’m the current president of AWJ Chicago and it’s extremely important to me because although we’ve cleared out a lot of professional roadblocks, there is still a shockingly long way to go, and so much to do, still.


SC: What reaction did you have when you were told that you were listed in the March 2011 issue of Chicago Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful Chicagoans”? How has that pushed your career in one way or another?

AG: I thought it was a joke and I blocked the email sender. Someone else followed up another way and I finally caught on. I don’t know that it has changed the course of my career whatsoever, but it was fun to play dress up, and I know when I am ninety-years-old, I will be thrilled to look back on it.

That said, I still don’t know who nominated me.


SC: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and professionals?

AG: Stop talking about writing and sit your ass down and write. That drives me crazy when I see talented writers spending all their time asking others about getting published, whether or not to work with an agent, how to do this or that … when they aren’t self-disciplined enough to make themselves sit down and write. It’s the hardest part, but you have to make yourself sit your ass down and write, and often.


Shelby Curran is an aspiring journalist and storyteller. She is a freshman and originally from South Florida. Her work has been published in the Miami Herald, My Jewish Learning and Writing Successful College Applications. In addition to writing, Shelby also enjoys puppies, Sundays spent in pajamas and finding ways to combat her excessive food allergies. You can follow her on twitter at @shelbysaysthat.