Indie Publishing
Field Notes

We love sharing our process of making a print magazine and building a sustainable indie publishing brand. New here? Start with our list of popular posts.

Meet our editorial assistant Ivana McConnell

Meet Ivana McConnell, who’s written an essay for issue 10 and recently took on the role of editorial assistant for Offscreen (next to her main job) to help me with the upcoming issue.

Kai: Who are you and what do you do when you’re not working on Offscreen?

Ivana: My name is Ivana McConnell and right now I’m based out of Vancouver, after stints in Toronto, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. I’m an apologetic Canadian with a weakness for typography, and as of lately I’m Offscreen Magazine’s editorial assistant.

My day job is that of interaction designer; when I’m not doing that or working on Offscreen, I’m probably either rock climbing or doing some sort of exercise. It helps me stay even-keeled, and listening to a podcast or some music while cycling helps me turn my brain off for a little while; something I find incredibly hard to do. I’m also trying to make time to learn how to draw letters, properly. It’s my ambition to one day design a typeface. Other than that, I’m usually enjoying a good conversation over a pint or a coffee (depending on the time of day) with my wife, or being dragged around the neighbourhood by our hyperactive jack russell terrier.

What apps and tools could you not live without?

Aside from the usual (Gmail, Skype, etc.), I’m not much of a tools person; I try a lot of them but nothing seems to stick. What does, I adore: Overcast for podcast discovery and listening, Clear and Captio to get tasks done, Byword to write, and the Longform app for great reads. Also, my wife and I recently had to spend six months apart due to work and a big move, and Evernote and Avocado turned out to be lifesavers.

Print is dead. Comment?

Lies. I think reports of the medium’s death are exaggerated and, in fact, it’s managed to reincarnate and reinvent itself into something that both complements and contrasts the digital, always-on world we live in. It can, like Offscreen, become an excuse to unplug from that digital world or, in some cases, allow us to connect to it in a different way. They encourage us to engage with the world a little bit differently; to create or read them is an act of commitment much different to reading or writing a blog post. There’s an honesty about it all — we know that a printed book or magazine isn’t collecting data on us while we’re reading it — and reading is a focused act that, in today’s world, requires just a little bit more devotion than it used to. We can’t share it with a click, we have to talk about it.

Technology changes but the printed word doesn’t; it’s a snapshot of time in a tangible, human way that web content can’t be. It’s permanent, and I think people are looking more and more for that humanity and that authenticity these days. So print isn’t dead, in my opinion, it’s alive and kicking our digital doors down.

What’s your favourite thing on the internet this week?

This 38,000 word interactive article which aims to answer the lofty question, ‘What is code?’ Sit down with a coffee, an open mind, and get ready to take notes (and a few breaks). It’s a cracker.

If you could pick any person to have a long dinner conversation with, who would it be?

I think my answer to this question would probably change every time you asked it, but today it would be Tommy Caldwell. I’ve been a rock climber for many years, and followed his Dawn Wall project since he first started checking it out and seeing if it was possible. He’s such a tenacious, humble human being with some epic stories to share, not to mention some invaluable climbing advice, which I could always use more of!

Please complete with honesty: Working with Kai is ___!?

Reassuring, but not in that cliche, ‘everything-is-going-to-be-all-right’ way, but reassuring in the way that only genuine honesty can be. I’m never in the dark about a suggestion I’ve made or an idea I’ve had, and that forthright clarity is so valuable to me. It’s also unfortunately fleeting sometimes, given the time difference of Vancouver-to-Melbourne, but it’s been brilliant!

On Growth

It was some time between issue No8 and No9 that I became a little more comfortable. I was preparing my quarterly business activity statement for my accountant, sitting at one of my regular cafés in Melbourne. Crunching numbers isn’t one of my strengths, but I don’t mind doing the necessary admin work. After all, as a sole trader I should keep an eye on how well (or badly) I’m doing, right? I realised then and there that I’m doing just fine. Not amazingly well, but not too badly either. I could order another coffee with confidence, for sure.

But having earned a little more money that quarter compared to the previous one was not what made me feel comfortable. It was the following thought process and the answer I arrived at.

For most entrepreneurs, the idea of having to do better this month than last is constantly on their mind. If you spend much of your working day online like I do, you’re frequently reminded of how much everyone focuses on getting bigger and more profitable. Growth hackers. Content marketing. IPOs. Everyone is chasing the hockey stick. And everyone is anxious about being left behind.

I get a lot of “How is the magazine going?”-type of questions when I meet readers in real life. I always wish I had some astounding numbers to report. How the magazine subscribers have quadrupled in the last quarter. How the new issue sold out over night. How I’m struggling to hire enough people in order to keep up with demand. It’s what we’ve come to expect from internet success stories. But that’s not the truth in Offscreen’s case.

The truth is that Offscreen has seen very slow growth. I started with 3000 copies and it took me 11 issues to justify a 5000 print-run. The truth is that some issues do better than others depending on a range of factors, none of which seem very predictable. The truth is that the magazine still doesn’t make enough money to hire more than a few temporary freelancers. (More on that in coming blog posts).

I love going back to an essay in issue No7 titled “Human Scale”, written by fellow Australian and Icelab co-founder Michael Honey. He writes:

‘It doesn’t scale’ is a criticism levelled at many new ideas. (…) But how many things which are good when small get better by becoming bigger? (…) Humans are good at family, middling at community, dysfunctional as nations, and self-destructive as a planet. What doesn’t scale is our ability to relate to each other as human beings instead of target markets — as eyeballs to monetise.

And then there is this recent interview with Jeff Sheldon of Ugmonk fame in which he talks about being proud of staying small:

We’re not growing a hockey-stick growth, but we’re growing enough. We’re building that fan base and are in it for the long haul, so I’m able to keep it really small and handle every part of the business or almost every part of the business, which does limit me on the creative side sometimes. I can’t release a hundred products every year. I can’t speak at dozens of conferences. I have to limit everything I do. (…) But I’m okay with all those things right now. I choose to keep it small, to keep it lean, to keep this business profitable where it is. (…) I’m much more focused on building that tribe of core followers that cares about what I do, than having ten thousand, one hundred thousand, or one million people that kind of like the cool shirt today, and then they totally forget about it tomorrow.

So here I am, working long days (and sometimes sleepless nights) to make a thing with a growth trajectory slightly more optimistic than the mom-and-pop shop down the road. And I’m finally ok with it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind growing, but I do mind growing for growth’s sake, which is what seems to happen a lot with tech companies these days.

There is a saying that you only need 1000 true fans to make a living from your work. Going through my reader database I can recognise almost all of my ‘true fans’ because we are in touch regularly via email, Twitter, Instagram or in real life when we finally meet at conferences. There is something quite beautiful in knowing your core readers personally and establishing an honest feedback loop that helps improve the magazine with every issue.

So the ‘answer’ I arrived at is the following question: as long as I can make a decent living, create work I’m (mostly) proud of, and get so much heartfelt feedback from people I respect, why add the pressures and headaches that come from chasing mainstream success?

Letter to the editor

Posted on Jun 11 2015 in Letters

Thank you so much for the offer, I actually buy my copies at an independent magazine kiosk in Santa Monica, Ca since I’m a bit impatient when it comes to shipping haha. I wanted to say thank you for making such an amazing magazine. As someone who lives in the growing “Silicon Beach” part of southern California and works for a few tech companies, this magazine has given me so much confidence in pursuing more opportunities in tech.

I love how personal your magazine feels. I read a lot of independent magazines from Hello Mr. to Human Being, The Happy Reader, The Great Discontent, Saturdays, Monster Children, Cereal, and the recently published Avaunt. What I like most about yours and other publications with similar dimensions is that it’s the perfect size to take around but also to leave out on the coffee table. I know you take careful time in choosing the paper and I have to say that hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, I would buy the magazine for the paper quality and smell alone. Those smaller details that may go unnoticed if sitting on a shelf amongst other widely spread commercial magazines are exactly the reasons why I seek yours out and only buy directly from you or from an independent seller where I know the money keeps you both in business. I really appreciate the colors you choose, the fonts you use, the advertisements sections, and my favorite: the side notes.

Thank you so much for putting this out and continuing to share the behind the scenes processes that go into the creation of the magazine. All the emails you share, blog posts you write, and just every interaction to keep the magazine human makes me as a reader truly feel as if I’m supporting a friend by buying, reading and admiring their work.

A very satisfied reader and supporter,

Thanks for making my day, Jeremy!

Everyone needs a Glory Wall

Posted on Apr 29 2015 in Snippets

The talented Jonnie Hallman is writing honestly about the emotional rollercoaster that comes with building a bootstrapped business on top of his app Cushion:

Bootstrapping shares a similar emotional rollercoaster to freelancing. On an up day, I might have a few dozen signups and, all-of-a-sudden, I feel unstoppable. I start thinking about hiring people and taking on less client work. I look months into the future and make projections on where Cushion will be based on that one good day.
Then, I won’t see a single new signup for an entire week and that impenetrable confidence begins to waver. I start doubting that I’ll ever be able to hire the help I so desperately need. I look to take on new clients because I’m now projecting the future based on this week alone, thinking I’ll be homeless in no time. I feel like no one cares anymore because nobody mentioned Cushion that week.

I can totally sympathise with him (as most entrepreneurs and sole business owners can). At Offscreen, there are days when I get ten orders for back issues and a couple of starter packs within hours, and then there are days when no one orders anything. It’s difficult to remind yourself that people still appreciate your product even when there is no chatter about it online or you make no sales.

In our issue 11 Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots UK, shares a beautiful nugget of wisdom that I’ve added to my list of things to do when the issue is finally done. She writes:

In the past I’ve been completely guilty of jumping from project to project without reflecting on the amazing things we’ve achieved. That’s when we started our Glory Wall (sorry for the name, it just stuck) where every month the team pins up something they’ve achieved on a wall in our office. It can be anything from a lovely message from a community member to a press clipping or a quote. It’s a wonderful, visual motivation tool and a daily reminder of how far we’ve come.

Go forth and build your own Glory Wall. I know I will.

Love it or leave it.

Posted on Apr 16 2015 in Thoughts

Earlier today I tweeted “Officially reached the point where I cringe when I see the words passion and work in the same sentence.” Let me explain.

These days, where everyone has an opinion and way too many tools to express it, we love to focus on easily sharable quips of advice that seem to summarise the mood of the moment.

“Love what you do.” “Find your passion.”

I’ve made use of them myself for the little gimmicks I add to Offscreen, and in theory there is nothing wrong with a motivational poster on your wall. But there are particular messages I come across again and again, and each time they feel shallower and duller. The words ‘love’, ‘passion’, and ‘work’ (in any possible combination) follow me everywhere I go online.

Like Rachel Nabors explains in Offscreen issue No10 (also online here), these statements oversimplify the complexity of reality. We’re setting ourselves up for disappointment, especially when we preach it to the young, the up-and-coming generation of creatives.

It suggests that you are no longer allowed to just have a job. You must show passion in everything you do. You must love your profession, otherwise it’s not worth pursuing. If you don’t feel it, you have failed.

Our chantable slogans also create an illusion that we will reach a particular point where happiness sets in and everything else magically falls into place.

In reality, even if you do finally get paid for making knitted tea cup sleeves, chances are that you’re not going to be passionately pursuing that career for the next 25 years. And then what? You are back to square one.

I enjoy making Offscreen. I really do. But let’s be honest, it’s a love affair that will eventually come to an end. What happens next, I do not know. I might have to do some hard yakka I don’t particular enjoy so I can afford my overpriced coffee and take care of the bills. Heck, maybe I even have a family to feed and a mortgage to pay. In that situation I think the last thing I need is a reminder that I’m doing it all wrong, because I don’t lie awake at night thinking about my work.

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