What I Learnt From Starting My Own Magazine And Seeing It Come To An End

What I Learnt From Starting My Own Magazine And Seeing It Come To An End

Starting your own magazine is a dream many 20-something creative writing undergraduates have. I was studying media communications at the time and was fed up with the superficial, and time-precious nature of the media I was consuming, and how I was being taught to make it. So I forged my own path instead.

I was idealistic, to say the least. Meetings were held, and ideas were hatched but it never eventuated. The second-time round, it stuck. But it took a long time and a lot of fierce determination. My friend Augie had already started collecting content, having birthed the idea in the midst of her international travels. She was a dreamer just like I was, and we bonded over a mutual desire to capture the good in the world: the creative minds and movements that were working to make the world more beautiful, more kind, more open. She asked me to come on board and two years later, and after a million hiatuses, we launched our first edition of Fead in an alleyway studio in Northcote, Victoria to over 200 people.

You have to learn how to juggle in creative industries

In that time, I had moved interstate, trying to find financial security and/or full-time employment, while pursuing tasks that were meaningful and made a positive contribution to greater society. How you quantify a positive contribution, I’m yet to know, but this was the beginning of a search to understand that scale and where I could possibly sit within it. I worked six jobs during that time, and moved house thrice. Meanwhile, my partner-in-magazine-crime, Augie, fell pregnant, and began raising her son. The first lesson I learnt was that life doesn’t just stop because you want to do something you consider good, you have to bend time and space to make it happen. So, bending time and space, we researched and contacted printers – fronting the initial costs out of our savings– and we made it happen.

The work is hard and imposter syndrome is real

I had interned at another magazine prior, and had developed my editing skills through my undergraduate, but in an 88-page perfect-bound magazine, there is a lot of words – where do you place the commas? What are dangling modifiers? Is the content culturally sensitive? Are we in a position to know? How do we pay the contributors? How do we find stockists? What even is a business plan? Can we sustain this? What genre is this magazine? What is our brand? Who are we to be making this? We dug our fingers into the mud and tried to find the answers. We sought help from online forums, from friends, from people who had produced their own magazines, from those who were contributing. And with their support, we managed to feature over 20 emerging and established artists and stock the magazine up the East Coast. It was a pretty solid attempt.

There’s always more to learn

But after edition one, I knew that if we were going to do this properly – if I was to call myself an editor – I had to know more. I returned to uni. And while my knowledge grew, so too did my stress levels. It was a lot to juggle. We managed to sneak out the second edition. At this point, we had interviewed our heroes: Jesse Paris Smith, Clementine Ford, Bruce Pascoe, Michael Leunig, Hiatus Kaiyote and more, weaving the words of these prolific artists through the work of our peers. Somehow, we managed to capture the things we cared about the most – the jewels in the junkheap – and share compelling stories and artwork to a loyal following, with Australia-wide distribution. We had made it to where we had set out to be, and yet… I was burnt-out and broke.

Media giants are fierce competitors

The proliferation of online content, and the combined powers of companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, means that for the consumer, content is cheap and easy to come by. I’ve perceived, that while the internet has, in some ways, made it easier for independent companies to get a foot in the door and to get their names out there, it’s also made it harder to thrive financially. Meanwhile, larger companies benefit from ad-clicks, and those who can afford to, thrive. In the dying day of media, there are conglomerates, and there is small press, but if you are going to make it sustainable, it has to be a business and a commodity, you usually have to come from money, or you have to work your ass off and hope some favourable winds come your way. I learnt why people give up on their publishing dreams. I also learnt why publishing didn’t pay my rent.

Recognising that I needed to say goodbye was near impossible

With two issues out in the world I stepped down from Fead. I tried not to think of it as failure. I tried to take pride in the work that I had done and the lessons I had learnt. I’d spent nearly $50,000 on tertiary tuition fees but learnt a hell of a lot more putting out my own publication. Plus, I thought that at the very least it would look good on my CV. And it has, in the past year I have interviewed for jobs at many local arts and media organisations and the answer has always been the same – they all thought I would fit in well at their organisation and have been particularly impressed but had decided to give the job to someone who simply had years more experience. The simple truth: it looks good to have run your own mag, but not good enough to get a foot in a large arts industry door.

Rejection is part of the package deal

After years of interning, volunteering, studying, working in a number of communication roles, and co-founding and co-editing my own magazine, I am stumped. How do you get a foot in the door? Can you find meaningful work? I am in a cycle of trying to quantify the work I have done, to make it tangible – more tangible than every other extremely-educated, talented and deserving person out there who are all vying for the same thing.  

For anyone else in a similar position to me, I don’t know what the solution is. Perhaps we try and try and try again and recognise that we were lucky to even be able to try in the first place. Perhaps we use what we do have, to support each other in every way that we can, and particularly support those who have had less opportunities to gain that experience.  

It’s the courage to continue that counts

What I learnt from making my own magazine, pursuing something I’m passionate about and sticking to my values, is that even though it can make you broke and break your heart, it is still worth doing. I learnt what I am capable of, I learnt that I have the capacity to learn new skills, and figure out solutions to most problems, as long as I care about the outcome. I think that this is just part of being human – we are all truly capable of finding the answers amidst the mud.