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Inside the World of Beauty Publishing at Chronicle Books

Beauty and lifestyle editor Laura Lee Mattingly gives us the inside scoop.

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Laura Lee Mattingly may just have one of the coolest jobs ever in San Francisco. As the Lifestyle Editor at Chronicle Books, she oversees titles that run the gamut from weddings and style to parenting and home decor. But lately, it's the beauty books she works on that have been rising in popularity.

The beauty books that Chronicle publishes range in topic from makeup to hair, and feature famous authors like beauty guru Bobbi Brown (her current book is Everything Eyes) and celebrity nail artist Madeline Poole of Nails, Nails, Nails!. Even with the growing mass of beauty blogs and videos that are accessible online, Mattingly has seen this space flourish in the publishing world.

Chronicle Books is an independent publisher that takes strides to make books that are exceptional in spirit and creativity. Therefore, Mattingly approaches the subject of beauty carefully. "I never want our readers to feel like they have to look or dress a certain way," she explains. "Our [beauty] books are about creative self-expression and feeling good."

But how do they make it to print? With publishing lead times that can be up to a couple years away, it's important to find just the right topics. We took a visit to the company's cool offices in SOMA to find out.

What are some of your favorite beauty titles you've worked on?

Nails, Nails, Nails! by Madeline Poole was really fun. Madeline is a creative force and was able to bring her unique vision to the nail looks in the book to set it apart from everything else that was out at the time. We did the photoshoot in LA and having her on-set was such an asset to the process. She's effortlessly, maddeningly cool, not to mention smart and talented. Plus, she did my nails!

50 Ways to Wear a Scarf was also a positive creative experience. Illustrator Lauren Friedman was just getting started when another editor and I stumbled on her blog via Pinterest. Lauren and I built that book from scratch and her illustrations brought so much life to the concept. And now I never worry about how to tie a scarf. Learning a bunch of random things is one of the perks of my job!

A book at Chronicle takes around 18 months to two years lead time to produce. How do you decide which beauty topics are important enough?

When I was just starting out, one of my bosses used to remind us that publishing isn't a science. That is, there isn't really a way to know 100% what will stick and what won't. It's a game of intuition. Editors are always on high-alert for trends, combing magazines, blogs, and social media. I've found that trends we may hear about in SF can actually take months or years to spread all over the country. When we first noticed nail art, for instance, it was before it had caught on in the mainstream media (with the mani-cams and all that). Luckily, our book published right around when the craze hit critical mass.

A similar phenomenon happened with Braids, Buns, and Twists. We were spotting braids on runways, and by the time the book came out girls everywhere were obsessed with braiding. Publishing a book around a seasonal fashion trend doesn't work given our production schedule, and I'm not interested in that approach anyway.

You've published books from some pretty famous people in the beauty industry. How do you go about finding authors for your beauty titles?

It's really a mix. Some talent comes to us via literary and talent agencies. I also spend quite a bit of time scouting talent. If I have an idea for a book that I think has a lot of potential, I'll take the time to hunt down the right author for it.

What cool beauty tips have you learned working with your beauty authors?

It's funny, I work on all these books and probably know way more about beauty and makeup than anyone should. But in my own life, I'm totally lazy about it. I know from Bobbi Brown that under-eye concealer can brighten up the whole face. I have natural dark circles under my eyes, so I wear Bobbi's corrector and concealer combo every day.

And I know from Annamarie Tendler, author of The Daily Face, that mascara is the one thing lazy girls should do before leaving the house—the more coats the better. She says, "Instead of covering what you think is bad, why not accentuate what is really, really good: your eyelashes?"

What are some of your favorite places in SF or the Bay Area for beauty treatments?

ZaZa in SOMA is great for manicures and pedicures, which I generally only splurge on before vacations or big events. And Jenny at The Light Fantastic hair salon is amazing. Tell her I sent you!

What beauty products can't you live without.

As I said, I keep it pretty simple. Bobbi Brown corrector in Medium Bisque paired with her concealer. My eyelash curler and a good mascara (right now I'm using Maybelline Rocket Volum). A tinted moisturizer for days I want to look a little more polished (my favorite is Laura Mercier with SPF 20). For hair, I usually just spritz in some sea salt spray (Davines works well and smells like the beach). And a red lip can be the only accessory I wear. Mia Moore from The Balm is my current go-to shade. It's a perfect bright red and it doesn't dry out your lips. Plus, it tastes kind of minty.

What can we expect to see in beauty from Chronicle Books this season or next?

This fall we're releasing Vintage Hairstyles, a cute book that shows how to do all these great retro looks. And keep an eye out for Eat Pretty, which is all about beauty nutrition and what to eat for specific benefits. Turns out radishes are good for strong nails—who knew?