Sitting on a hard bench, one of her long, slim, jean-clad legs is tucked underneath her as the other swings quickly from side to side. Her peasant shirt does not wrinkle under her crossed arms, as her Prada bag sits idly by. Tia Williams is nervous.
The magazine editor, author, radio show host, star of her own Olay commercial and “In Touch Weekly” television commentator, who recently released her second novel “It Chicks” from her new teen series, is about to speak to a room filled with students who want her life – starting with her former job as a leading beauty editor in the competitive magazine publishing industry.
Williams’ nervousness is short-lived as fans of her popular ‘Shake Your Beauty‘ blog flock to her and it is as if a switch has flipped and she is ‘on.’ She answered the questions thrown her way, and when asked about her lip color she quickly whipped out her gloss and speared some on her hand.
“She’s always like that,” said her mom, Andrea Williams. “Every time she has to speak to people like this, at first she is a bit nervous. But once it’s time, she always shines.”
Williams shined her way to the top of the masthead in four years, in an industry that takes others usually a decade to ascend. Graduating from the University of Virginia in 1997 with a bachelor’s in English, she moved to New York and worked at Doubleday Books as an editorial assistant.
Williams soon realized that reading the works of others, and putting the worst submissions in the ‘slush pile’ was not where she wanted to be: she wanted to be the one doing the writing.
Leaving Doubleday to become an editorial assistant for YM Magazine in the beauty department, Williams quickly found her passion and the girlie side of her found its home. She moved up the ranks from YM on to Elle, Glamour and Lucky magazines and reached the pinnacle of her masthead journey thus far as beauty director of Teen People magazine.
Williams is upfront about the fact that she works in an industry that is made up mostly of people who do not have brown skin like hers, as she tells students interested in the field that, “the standard of beauty is white.”
She is excited to see the growing range of beauty products included in magazines that reflect the diversity of skin tones and hair textures. She takes pride in knowing she helped bring the change.
“A black girl may not own her house, but she buys make-up and makes sure she looks good,” Williams said.
Along Williams’s journey as a beauty editor, with its free gifts and trips including her favorite excursion to Miami by LancÃ´me which included a cocktail party at the Versace Mansion, she collected an abundance of experiences that she thought the world needed to know. She created Billie Burke, a prominent black beauty editor, and told Burke’s fictional tale in her first novel, “The Accidental Diva.”
“Girls of color are always having to say I want to be a ‘black’ Carrie from Sex and the City or a ‘black’ whoever. Now they can just say I want to be Billie Burke.”
The novel received positive reviews from Marie Claire, Essence and The New York Times, and an excerpt was featured in Cosmopolitan magazine.
“The Accidental Diva” tells of the glamorous life of a black beauty editor that Williams says is not her life. Her life has not been full of glitz and that applies to what the Virginia native went through to get the book published.
Deciding on a cover for the book was only the beginning of the hurdles she faced as publishers wanted the novel to have mass appeal with an “ethnically ambiguous” female on the cover. Williams would go on to re-write the jacket for her book, as an employee of the publishing house took all the endings off the words, speaking in a dialect the characters of the book never would.
Williams sees no comparison to her works and the abundance of celebrity memoirs and ‘confessions’ that sit next to her novel at bookstores.
On a panel on the move from magazines to publishing books, former Vibe magazine editor and author of the book “Hung,” Scott Poulson-Bryant, said he doesn’t view star tell-alls as literature. “I am an elitist, but I am not a snob,” he said.
With her foot swinging, big gold hoop earrings, a Mediterranean tan tank, matching gold slippers and pig tails, Williams quickly chimed in, “He may not be. But I’ll say it. I am a snob. I’m a literary snob.”
She recalled how at a Harlem Book Fair that she, Iman and Karrine Steffans, author of the book “Confessions of a Video Vixen,” were on a panel and all the young girls asked Stephens, known for her tell-all memoir of the numerous sexual encounters she has had with rappers, about self esteem.
“That makes me nervous,” Williams said.
Williams has found her own way to reach young girls by her new teen series beginning with the first book “It Chicks.” The books follow the lives of a group of girls at a performing arts high school in New York City and don’t hold back on the realities of being a teenager.
Williams says she has always been a writer, never going a day without jotting down words since childhood, and her father says he has a lot to do with it.
“She got her writing from me,” said Alfred Williams, a retired military dentist. “As a child, she used to see me write all the time and decided it was something she wanted to start. Some men play golf, I write.”
Williams encouraged those who seek to reach her level of success to remember that people hire those in their ‘social network,’ so it’s important to mingle and meet the right people.
She has taken her own advice to heart, finding a fan in supermodel Iman, who hosted the release party for her first book.
“It’s no one’s job to notice you are a star.”