Note: My intention for this BRINK blog was to post twice a month and reveal some tips and strategies from the nearly five years of the publications run. In order to maintains a balanced life, I put this blog on the back burner. In the meantime, something really wonderful came out of it and it's this email that I'm sharing with you now and in the future. This post was originally on my personal blog, so if some of the conversation sounds awkward, that might be why. Hope you enjoy and if you find this useful, please comment. Much more to come and waiting in the wings.
Quick story. Half a decade ago I decided I would start my own lifestyle magazine. Originally, I wanted to open a magazine newsstand and have a small cafe inside too. Alas, a magazine newsstand in Orlando in 2009 was ultimately a horrific idea and I backpedaled a bit. I thought, what can I do to realize this vision I have in my head? I took all the things I liked about magazines and added the entrepreneurial aspect of what I wanted to originally do, tossed these ideas into a blender and out popped a magazine.
First off, I had zero clue what I was doing with the magazine, especially with the design. I just knew I had to get this publication out, had a vision in my head and that there had to be an audience for the same things that I was feeling, thinking and doing. I was 29 years old and I wanted more. I came up with the name "BRINK" to stand for being on the edge of something amazing for any individual, brand or business. The magazine was localized to Orlando (where I live) and essentially pop culture meets business. I consider the magazine to have had three stages in its nearly five-year lifetime.
Stage one was the messy 'zine period which lasted from inception to February 2010. The magazine was a cluttered, chaotic mess and I was taking any contributions to have content mildly related to the theme. Stage two was the redesign period and that was February 2010 to August 2011. That August/September 2011 issue featured Nadia G from Cooking Channel's "Bitchin' Kitchen" and kicked open a door to a whole new, bigger, wider audience. I realized that by keeping the magazine localized, I was limiting the types of content and potential features. So with that issue, it all changed and went national. Stage three was the last overhaul and everything started to look more cohesive and blend much nicer. I started to really get to know the Adobe InDesign program I was using to create the magazine and started to get a feel of how to deal with my contributors and my small team. That stage was from August 2011 to December 2013. The 2013 year for the magazine was very good and the features, writing and photography was really getting to a point that I genuinely liked. It's not that I didn't like anything before 2013, but it was just not how I envisioned it and 2013 was much closer to the vision in my head.
Also going on in my head was a whirlwind of craziness from being the sole person to churn out issue after issue and be the creative director, editor, salesman, graphic designer, social media manager and so on. I was the "everything." I got burned on a regular basis, had a hard time saying "no" to anyone and ultimately became a slave to the magazine. I was dealing with people that felt very entitled and their ego was out of control. Not only inside the magazine (some contributors), but outside the magazine with particular partnerships. If any acquaintance wonders why we're not friends on Facebook any longer or why we stopped talking, it's because I cut you out and removed myself from your negative situation. I stepped back to not get involved with your messy personality. I am talking about particular people here - obvi. Ain't nobody got time for dat.
From day one I said "this is supposed to be fun." I had to remind myself of that too many times and decided, finally, in December 2013 to put the magazine on hold. I'm so glad I did because my life became a complete mess in late 2013/early 2014 and with so many changes I don't even know how I would've found the time to turn out a magazine. I think about it now how I don't even know how I would turn out a magazine like I once did - I have no idea how I balanced it. My quick story is turning into a long story. Saw-wee.
So, the magazine stopped and my life is slowly being taken off the respirator. A few great things happened when I stopped publishing the magazine. One of which this post is about - finally, I know. I had the magazine on several different platforms, one being MagCloud, which is a self-publishing tool. A young independent publisher out of Kenya recently emailed me in reference to my one and only blog post on the BRINK magazine blog this year and that she originally found BRINK via MagCloud. (I told myself I would do a couple posts a month on the BRINK blog to reveal some secrets and knowledge, but I haven't followed through and only did that one sole post.) In that one blog post I spoke on the troubles with the magazine and what I would do differently. Well, this spoke to the reader and she emailed me about her and her magazine, AfroElle and we've been a having a great dialogue about independent publishing and what she could learn from what I have done. There's only one person that truly understands what it was like for me to churn out issue after issue and what it did to me and my life. It's not all bad, but it's not all good. So when Patricia (reader) emailed me, I had no problem emailing her back some honest answers and maybe truths from the future. I want her to know we share a bond.
Below are the beginnings of our dialogue. I asked Patrica if it would be okay if I posted these and she said yes. The first two are the initial emails. I am posting these because I think Patrica's originally email has a lot of class and anyone could learn from her for any initial email you initially want to send....initially. Then, the first Q&A is below that initial email. I'm unsure if I'll continue posting these here or only on the BRINK blog, so if you like it, let me know and I'll post more here too...without all the text above.
Hope you are well. This is Patricia, from Nairobi, Kenya. I'm the founder and editor-in-chief of AfroElle - a digital magazine for women of African heritage.
I came across Brink a year back through Magcloud blog. I must have been researching on how to start producing print issues. I read a couple of articles in different issues and loved your work.I wanted to write in last year around December to ask for magazine related advice but finally decided to write in after i read your last post yesterday on tips to build this team/ retrospect.
Your post was the most honest I've ever read about this magazine world. My magazine was initially a blog and it morphed into a digital mag just 3 years ago. Starting out there was nobody to give me honest advice on what to expect. Considering that it was the first digital magazine for women in East Africa, I've had to learn a lot from my mistakes. Like how to manage a virtual team, how to juggle everything with a 9-5 job.
Its been a great journey, but recently I woke up feeling like is it worth it. I thought about calling it quits. I don't earn any money from the magazine yet, there's so much - ad sales, trying to get a team on board who are equally passionate about the vision etc. Your post described every bit of what my life as an editor has been.Long story short, I know you are taking a break from Brink but I would like if you can consider mentoring/ advising me with my journey. I'm sure there's a whole lot i can learn from you.
Let me know.
Wow, I am floored by your email. I am so grateful you took the time to write this out and respond to that post. I'm also completely flattered that you would ask me to consider being an adviser/mentor. It's funny because I wanted to update that blog more frequently with the magazine being on hiatus, but I thought maybe it was a waste of time. But one email like this makes it worth it and inspires me to tell more stories form the front lines of what I've experience with BRINK. Additionally, I rarely check this email and happened to check it today and I'm so glad I did.
I love your magazine! I just went over to your website and checked it out and I think its wonderful! I looked over the current issue and think it's fantastic. Your Ed letter was very smart and filled with so much insight. The quote at the end of that letter was fantastic and I'm definitely going to use that somewhere soon.
I can definitely hear you when you speak on the challenges. It's tough. And it's difficult when there's no money coming in and all your working on is passion and validation. But I think you have a great product (and brand) that is in demand and is needed in the world today. Hats off to you!
I would be happy to offer some insight form time to time, advice or opinions on the issue or anything at all. Please feel free to reach out any time and I'd be happy to lend my voice,
Thank you so much Patricia, so glad you wrote this email! And kudos on such a great job with AfroElle!
BRINK Magazine | Editor in Chief
Thank you for your response, for your kind words and for agreeing to take me on as a mentee. I'm so grateful and I'm looking forward to learning and growing in the process. I'm not sure how mentorship looks like, but I was hoping I can ask questions according to the various facets of the magazine work; I will pose certain questions and you can share your insights and advice but also I would like if you can possibly challenge me, so if there's any assignment you'd like for me to do, I'm open to that too. I want to be respectful of your time and other priorities so if you have suggestions- im also open to that.
1. Team + Interns + Compensation
Over the 4 years, I've worked with a group of contributors but it reaches a point, they either want compensation or start asking when the magazine will be profitable. Right now, I'm running the magazine with only two contributors. I had to reduce the number of pages in the magazine because of the work load. One of the contributors has been with the team since it started and the other one joined late last year. They are really enthusiastic about the work and go above and beyond for the magazine.
I truly hope they don't tire in volunteering. Question is, what ways can i compensate them for their work? How can i invest in them and thei talents? How can i show them that i'm grateful for their work beyond the 'thank you' notes?
Secondly, I think i've reached a point where i don't want to take in any more contributors because of that very fact you mentioned 'they have to be fully committed' . Plus I'm just exhausted creating relationships and sharing the vision but people pulling out half way. So, i was wondering if i should take in a group of interns? What do you think? I've worked with volunteers in the past and i must admit- i failed in managing them. It was just too much at that time and all the contributors and volunteers are based in different countries.
I loved how you had your interns blog their experience. Did you have a physical office? How did you manage it and them? How do I make that process efficient, the work challenging, the experience WORTH it and gauge their thirst for work?
Thanks again, Kyle!
Apologies for the delay. I got sidetracked and wanted to send you a thoughtful response and not something rushed. And yes, please, ask any questions you want. If I cant answer them or don't have an adequate answer, I'll let you know up front.
This question is so tough. For me, and the problem with contributors, was that my ego was too big. I wanted to really keep everything a mystery to make things seem more glossy, fun and cool. Looking back, I believe that was a huge downfall for the magazine as a whole. What I should've done was be more honest about how much work I was doing for the magazine and let the contributors in on more of the day to day activity. I let a lot of contributors go over the years for a few reasons. Either their commitment started to disappear, they did something to inflict trouble on the magazine or they were never really feeling it from the beginning.
Now the people that aren't feeling it - let them go. The truth is, they are never going to "get" how much you're doing and it just comes down to apples and oranges. Two completely things.
If anyone ever cause any trouble for the magazine or you have a gut feeling something is off, cut them out asap. The time and energy spent will not be worth it.
And if their commitment starts to disappear, but you like them and they do good work, well then you just need to have a frank talk with them about their role within the magazine.
Now, giving the contributors compensation was tough. I actually started paying out of my own pocket for certain things. Id give contributor $15 or $25 depending on word count and Id give the main photographer $50. I think this was a mistake and bad business. I believe this is another instance where it should really be a conversation between you and the contributors and how you want to build your brand.
My opinion is that if you haven't already, you should have a frank talk with your contributors. I have a hunch they don't know exactly whats going on with the magazine and how much you're doing. I think it would be wise to tell them that if sales were to come through, then you would compensate them, but right now, you have to continue with credit and any perks. If you follow any of my flaws, i think it would be a great detriment to your business.
So be honest and let them in to whats going on and your vision. Paint them a picture so to speak. Be real and tell them what you want.
BRINK did not have an office and the interns would blog on their own time, but I have them structure. I told them they had to pick one day where I could call them between any time around 9-5 and they would be on the BRINK clock, This worked fairly well. They loved doing the blog because it really made them feel like a part of the magazine. And then they would tweet about it and it would cast a wider net for the magazine. I would also give them a lot of duties. i would publish their work (because it was good too) in the magazine. They got hands on experience speaking with actual talent. In return, I gave them college credit or signed off on college credit. ONLY do the intern thing if its for college credit. Otherwise, they become unhinged and get disinterested fast. As matter of fact, you could get a few interns and have them do a majority of the written work to free up time for you. But remember, every six months you need to train new interns. It depends on how you feel about that.
Everything you do for your magazine has to do something to bring in new eyes. So the interns were a great extension of the brand.
Did that help shed any light? If not, let's continue the conversation...what else?