Meet Nikki Vargas - co-founder and editor-in-chief of Unearth Women
When I first heard about Unearth Women, a feminist travel publication (in fact the first feminist travel publication), I loved the idea and wanted to know more about its co-founder and editor-in-chief, Nikki Vargas. As a travel editor and freelance journalist, Nikki was perfectly positioned to see and act upon a gap in the market for a travel publication for women and by women. She said something that struck me as incredibly wise and pertinent for all freelance writers: "It’s not enough to have a fabulous idea, you need to have the means to set it in motion."
I have been doing "meet the freelancer" Q&As for a little while now, but I thought it was important to include editors in the mix. After all, when you are talking about magazines and online publications looking for freelance writers, who better to speak to than an editor?
Meet Nikki Vargas - co-founder and editor-in-chief of Unearth Women
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Sure! I am originally from Colombia, raised in Chicago and now living in NYC where I work as a freelance journalist and full-time editor.
My career started in digital advertising before I made the switch to editorial. The career switch was a long drawn out process, as I had maintained a personal blog—The Pin the Map Project—and did some freelance writing for titles such as VICE and FOOD & WINE, before landing a contributing staff writer position with The Daily Meal.
Eventually, I ended up as travel editor of the travel start-up Culture Trip, before launching Unearth Women earlier this year.
What is Unearth Women and what prompted you to establish it?
Unearth Women is a feminist travel publication that exists in both digital form and a quarterly print magazine.
The inspiration for Unearth Women really came from a growing frustration—both within myself and from other women in the travel industry—that sexism in the realm of travel isn’t being properly addressed.
Too many times, women in the travel industry are denied bylines considered “too risky” for women to report on, or are pigeon-holed into idyllic archetypes of what a female traveller should be.
Unearth Women aims to celebrate real female travellers, champion female journalists, address issues that matter to them and encourage more diversity for women in the travel space.
Why do you think Unearth Women is so important and needed?
Since launching Unearthwomen.com and teasing out our first issue, we have received an overwhelmingly positive response from the travel community that a publication like this is long overdue.
I think Unearth Women is needed because women make up majority of the travel consumer base (about 70%) and yet the perception of female travellers is always a young, white, 20-something with a perfect body and flawless wardrobe.
The perception of female travellers today is not realistic but, more than that, is not inclusive of real women who are older, of different races, backgrounds, body types and ethnicities.
A platform like Unearth Women is needed to give women who are currently overlooked by the travel industry, a voice.
I’m interested to hear about the practicalities of starting a publication – how did you go about setting up Unearth?
Unearth Women started out as nothing more than an idea one evening, which I ran with. The next step was assembling a team. I knew from my experience with my blog, The Pin the Map Project, that the undertaking of a media platform is overwhelming and (admittedly) I am not so strong on the business side of things as I am on the creative.
I knew almost intuitively the women I wanted on this project to help me grow it, and help step in on the business side of things.
The idea for our print publication came from the simple fact that there isn’t currently a feminist travel magazine on the market, which allows us the unique opportunity to have no competition in the print space.
We launched a Kickstarter (since completed) to help us fund the production of our first Fall 2018 issue (which you can pre-order here!).
In terms of digital, we know that our website will ultimately be our biggest source of revenue and our biggest means to connecting to an audience more frequently and en masse than our print publication.
What were the challenges of establishing the publication?
The challenge with any start-up is always going to be the financial aspect.
It’s not enough to have a fabulous idea, you need to have the means to set it in motion. Launching a website requires an upfront investment of a web designer, developer, hosting platform, domain purchase, etc. to get up and running. Launching a print publication requires the hiring of a print designer, printer, shipping costs, and (in our case) a distribution consultant to assist with the first few issues.
As with anything, you need to have passion for the project that you launching as the first few steps will be the hardest.
It strikes me that freelance writers are usually quite entrepreneurial people. You worked as an editor before, but is it different when you ‘own’ the publication?
Completely different! There is a real sense of freedom in owning your own publication and setting the editorial tone of it. Unearth Women is exactly the sort of hard-hitting, investigative reporting I have always loved and gravitated towards in my own career, so it’s a real treat to get to publish this content on my own site.
What kind of stories are you looking to feature in Unearth Women?
In our writers' guidelines we detail what we’re looking for, as well as tips on pitching us.
Essentially, Unearth Women is looking for feminist city guides, inspiring women for our ‘Women to Watch’ section, or overlooked stories from around the world that would fit in our ‘Unearthed’ section.
Are you looking for freelance writers to contribute to Unearth? If so, what are the pay rates?
We are accepting pitches now for Unearth Women! Our beginning rates (which we hope to increase as more money comes in) are anywhere from $75 to $300 USD depending on the writer’s experience, and whether the story will be in print or digital.
In your experience, what makes a good pitch? What if writers don’t have much (or any) experience – are you still open to them writing for you?
Pitching is pretty prescriptive. Most editors will tell you exactly what they are looking for and what they don’t want to see. Real the writers' guidelines, take a look at our website and you should be in good shape to pitch us!
Do you have a favourite story in Unearth so far?
I love this story we published on the Archetype of Female Travelers vs. Real Women who Travel. It’s not so much the story itself (which I authored) as it is the response we received that makes it truly memorable. In response to this story, our readers spent the next 24 hours sending in their real, unedited travel photos. I found it so empowering!
What are your hopes for Unearth Women?
Our team’s hope for Unearth Women is that it will continue to grow and blossom into a successful media company. We are pouring everything we have into growing Unearth Women, and we hope that we can really carve a space in the market for women to have this inspiring, empowering, travel publication that looks like them and celebrates them.
I love that freelance writing can offer so many opportunities beyond "just" writing. What did you think about this Q&A with Nikki?