Alum Interview: Katie Heaney
By: Maggie Zeisset
Majors: Political Science and Hispanic Studies
What were you involved in on campus (Greek life, RSOs, academic work with a professor, etc.)?
Pretty involved! I was a tutor at the Writing Center from the second half of my freshman year until I graduated, and a Spanish language tutor and Political Science Research Assistant for the latter two years. I played on the tennis team sophomore through senior years. I was also a member of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance for sophomore through senior years, and president for the first two years.
How have you used your liberal arts education in your career? What specific skills have been valuable to you?
I think that my writing-focused coursework (no matter the subject) and my work as a writing tutor is probably the most directly helpful in my career, but learning how to do good research, and how to understand and use language, all of that's helpful too.
Your major isn’t necessarily typical of someone in your career field, how has your major benefited you in your career?
I have to say, my majors don't really affect my career in any specific way that I'm aware of. My career came more out of something I've always been interested in, which is writing. I loved the majors I chose, and I'm sure I would be happy had I ended up working with them more directly, but I don't think they're necessarily as important as the skill sets I got just from going to such a good school and working hard in general.
What experiences did you draw from to create your book Never Have I Ever?
Just my real life! I mean, it's a memoir, so I was just retelling everything as best I could remember it. Several of the friends I made at Wesleyan are my best friends to this day, and play a prominent role in the book, and they helped me both directly (like by remembering little details in certain stories) and indirectly (by being my friends, making memories with me, influencing the way I write) too.
How did this idea come about?
I was contacted by a literary agent after publishing a few things online, and they were really conversational and kind of about both friendship and dating, and I knew that I was in the somewhat unique position of being the age I was then without having really done much/any dating. And I thought I could make that funny.
What was the process like to get your book published?
Much easier than I had any right for it to be. Like I said, I was contacted by my agent, who is wonderful, and I wrote the book during my second year of graduate school (I was getting my master's degree in public policy), and sold it shortly after I graduated to a really wonderful editor and publisher. It was so unexpected and exciting.
Do you have any advice for students aspiring to write a book and then publish it?
Yes—get online. I sort of think you have to have (or, well, you don't HAVE to have, but it certainly helps and I don't know how people sell books without it) Twitter, and maybe a Tumblr, and you have to get some smaller things published on websites if you can. Name recognition is huge, and though I didn't have much of it when I sold my book, even the little audience I had built by then really helped make a case for me and my book.
You have different types of work that you’re doing (BuzzFeed, author, blogger, etc.); can you talk about the realities of balancing those different types of work? What steps did you take in order to get where you are in your career?
I've at various points balanced book writing with internet writing, though right now I'm pretty much just focused on my full-time job at BuzzFeed. I would like to write another book, but it's definitely hard to write all day every day and then want to go home and write more. It's tough. I sometimes feel like I have to use my vacations for that. But I know it's possible to write a book when you're largely focused on something else, because I did it in grad school.
What would you suggest students get involved in now in order to be successful later in a similar career as yours?
The Writing Center is great I think, whether you're a tutor there or just making use of the fact that it's there to help you. I am going to be honest: I read a lot of bad papers when I was there. And Wesleyan is such a great school! But I don't think students are taught how to write early on enough, or well enough, and it's possible to get through school without ever getting good at it. But the tutors are there to help, and you can learn a lot from them. Learning to write and communicate is essential for a job like mine.
Can you talk about your typical day at work?
I get to work a little before 10, and usually spend the first hour or so of the day kind of looking around the internet for post ideas or talking them over with coworkers. We bounce a lot of ideas off each other, and we're organized into little groups, so I spend a lot of time talking to my group about how to make our post ideas better and stronger. I typically publish about one post a day, unless I'm working on something longer, or just stuck. We all have days where we just can't find ANYTHING. It's part of the reality of working in a creative field I think.
What is the best and worst thing about your career?
The best part is getting paid to do something I love, which is writing and trying to make people laugh with writing. It's hard sometimes, and I think it's a job that can burn you out easily, but finding new ways to do it and be weird and creative makes it continually interesting and fun. And BuzzFeed is a really fun office to be in.